Late last week, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman accused Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas of waging “diplomatic terror” against Israel. Lieberman told Israeli radio that Israel was victim of two forms of terror from the Palestinians, with Hamas leading armed “terrorism” while Abbas leads diplomatic “terrorism”, concluding: “I am not sure which is more dangerous to us.”
In addition to obstructing negotiations and not responding to the Israeli gestures for peace with the Palestinians, Lieberman complained that Abbas calls Israel an apartheid state, accuses Israel of war crimes and demands investigations of Israeli practices in the UN Human Rights Council.
Lieberman’s views of Abbas were further articulated in a long letter which he sent on August 20 to all Quartet members — EU High Representative Catherine Ashton, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov — and which called openly on the Quartet to help depose Abbas.
“The Palestinian Authority is a tyrannical and corrupt regime,” Lieberman wrote.
“In light of the weak status of Abbas and his policy of refusing to renew the negotiations, which constitutes an obstacle to peace, it is time to consider a creative solution and to think out of the box to strengthen the Palestinian leadership. Elections in the authority may bring about a significant change in the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu swiftly distanced himself from Lieberman’s comments.
“What was written in the letter by the foreign minister does not correctly represent the position of the prime minister or of the government as a whole,” an official in Netanyahu’s office told Ma’an News Agency.
Whether Netanyahu does agree or not is not of any real significance here.
What is evident is that Netanyahu has hardly been less critical of Abbas for refusing to engage openly in sterile negotiations that could only provide convenient cover for Israel’s continued colonisation of Palestinian land.
The real issue here is the failure of the Palestinian leadership to understand two basic features of Israeli negotiating tactics.
One is the standard Israeli insistence on forcing the Palestinian counterpart to unilaterally make all the necessary concessions and declarations before any negotiations would even start. Israel never in return made any promises or declarations of what it would do once the Palestinians have fulfilled their obligations.
The second feature is that no amount of concessions were ever sufficient for the Israelis to move to the next stage. Every time the Palestinian leaders met a list of demands, they were served with a new one.
If they refuse they are condemned for obstruction and lack of commitment to peace. All the while, the consistent pattern of the so-called “international community” has been to put additional pressure on the Palestinians to comply, thus assisting the stronger party against the weak.
By such tactic, Israelis were able to constantly lower the ceiling of Palestinian demands, at the same time deciding where to advance theirs.
That this is happening to Abbas is obvious. The irony is that Abbas was a close witness to the same pattern to which his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, was subjected. And yet he did not learn. Abbas is repeating the same mistakes and eventually facing the same destiny.
Arafat, over a period of many years after the 1993 Oslo Accords were signed, was put under pressure by Israel, its Western supporters as well as Arab sources to meet Israeli conditions in order to qualify himself and his organisation as a partner for peace, not a terrorist. He agreed to recognise Israel’s right to exist.
He agreed to renounce his people’s right to use armed struggle in the pursuit of their national rights, even in self-defence. He accepted 22 per cent or less of the land of historic Palestine as basis for an imagined settlement. He committed to combat Palestinian “terrorism” with a clear hint that that meant any Palestinian resistance of the occupation.
He agreed to change the Palestinian Charter. He accepted to establish a Palestinian administration under the occupation, including the creation of a Palestinian force to replace the Israeli occupation army.
He agreed to security cooperation with the Israelis to track down Palestinian trouble makers. He placed the Palestinian economy under Israeli control.
He agreed to put off for five years all the so-called final status issues, such as the refugees, settlements, Jerusalem, security, occupation and water. He kept quiet about intensified colonisation activities during the interim period; and more.
That was not enough. He was punished by being barricaded in what was left of his Ramallah headquarters after it had been bombed by Israel. In his final days he was asked to surrender his immediate guards to the Israelis for trial.
That was after he tried Palestinian leaders and opened a special prison for them in Jericho under European guards. Israel later stormed the prison and kidnapped the prisoners under the eyes of the Europeans and the rest of the world.
Arafat was constantly humiliated. There was a limit to what he could offer. When he could deliver no more he was effectively terminated. Abbas repeated all that and more. In an abject response to Lieberman’s letter, Abbas wrote, according to Haaretz: “Lieberman and the government of which he is a member know very well that there is 100 per cent security cooperation between us and the Israeli security forces.”
In other words, Abbas was attesting that he had complied fully with all demands, to the point where he boasts about collaboration with the occupying power. Arafat did it, but did not boast.
Abbas has also agreed to “swap” territory which meant allowing Israel to annex the settlements built illegally on occupied Palestinian land. He obeyed American orders to engage endlessly in meaningless negotiations while Israeli occupation and colonisation continued.
He cooperated with the United States and Israel in a scheme to overthrow Hamas after its election victory, and to besiege, blockade and isolate Gaza after that failed.
He repeatedly assured Israel that no matter what it did, there will never be any Palestinian uprising. He retreated on many promises he made to his people to use other options when it was more than clear that the so-called peace process has become a theatrical mockery.
No other Palestinian leader could have done for Israel as much as Arafat and Abbas, at the very expense of vital and the basic Palestinian rights. There is no parallel in history of a leader giving so much and being punished so harsh.
Abbas has not much left to offer except to continue to negotiate to provide cover for Israeli occupation actions. But that will no longer work. The whole world knows, whether it admits it or not, that Israel has no interest in negotiations.
Israel, not just Lieberman, may have reached the conclusion that Abbas has emptied his concessions bag. The cycle has to be renewed with a new Palestinian leadership that Israel hopes will buy it a few more years.
Hasan Abu Nimah is a writer for The Jordan Times where this article was published on August 28, 2012