Opinion: Moving in the Right Direction, Or Living Self-Condemnation?

Last week this column critiqued Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for not doing much of anything for peace in the Middle East—specifically chiding him for not speaking a word in opposition to Hamas’ hate speech of the previous weekend. Then Abbas surprised us with a belated disagreement of Hamas’ words. So is there real hope?

Alas, the actions of the Palestinian Authority this week have spoken louder than Abbas’ words. So now I come, in Shakespearean form, to bury Abbas politically, not to praise him.

The first comments of note from Mr. Abbas were given to the Arab League. The Jerusalem Post reported that Abbas expressed an openness to the Arab League to resume negotiations with Israel for six months if the Israelis again freeze settlement construction. He also wants to resume peace talks where they left off under the previous Israeli administration of Ehud Olmert.

That Abbas urged his fellow Arab leaders not to abandon the peace process, per The Jerusalem Post’s report of the discussion, is laudable. Unfortunately, back at home, his own court system was making it clear that it was territory and not peace that was being sought.

That was seen in the Palestinian court’s decision just two days after Abbas’ comments to sentence a 64-year-old man to 10 years of prison and hard labor for trying to sell his land to an Israeli. Assuming his appeal fails and the penalty is enforced, that would mean this already aged man would be finishing up a hard labor sentence at 74-years of age. All for the horrific crime of selling his legally-acquired property to an Israeli.

Furthermore, the news report was published not by some watchdog group trying to warn the world of Palestinian anti-peace practices, but by the official Palestinian WAFA news group—in English no less. In other words, the Palestinian Authority is quite proud of the fact that they have prevented legal commerce between their people and Israel. Peace was coming how again?

Then there are Abbas’ words disagreeing with the Hamas hate speech. To call it condemnation would be exaggeration. Abbas, according to the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet Daily News, said he doesn’t agree with Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal’s comments.

But not because the pro-violence speech was repulsive. Not because claiming all of the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea points more to ethnic cleansing than to peace-making. No, Abbas’ rationale to reporters is that Meshaal shouldn’t have said what he said because they’ve already recognized Israel and Hamas agreed to do so.

Not only is this far short of the vehemence a peace-loving leader should have given, it actually undermines the peace-process doctrine that a piece of paper could provide peace. Hamas agreed to recognize Israel almost two decades ago? And they responded with rockets and suicide-bombers? This agreement was effective in what way again?

Furthermore, Abbas’ West Bank authorities allowed Hamas celebrations to take place in their territory as they pursue efforts to reconcile the Palestinian political groups. Peace and hate cannot coexist under the same political banner. If anything, Abbas should have said that they want peace and Hamas can join the party when they want it too.

Nope, instead the actions from Abbas are that one can make inroads politically while fundamentally disagreeing with Abbas’ supposed support for peace. Those actions speak louder than words.

There are realistic two arguments about the disparity between Abbas’ words and his actions. One is that he is fundamentally not interested in peace and simply says what the West wants to hear so he can reap their political and financial support.

If so, then Abbas is a hopeless partner for peace because he will never take the necessary steps to achieve it.

The other option is that Abbas really is sincere, but he has to play both sides because his people aren’t ready. Well then, that truly is a political death sentence. He has no real power, so why is he the negotiating partner? Who will accept his compromise? Who will follow his lead then, if they don’t now?

So he can’t actually condemn Hamas’ hate speech, lest his people reject him, but he will manage to make painful concessions for speech and those same people will accept them?

Tragically, Abbas’ own record speaks for itself. Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reportedly made the farthest-reaching offer he could afford to make and Abbas turned it down. Olmert was desperate to save his political career and essentially had nothing to lose. But even that offer wasn’t good enough.

Now Abbas wants that to be the starting point in the negotiations, according to The Jerusalem Post. Sounds like a great way to negotiate. I will stick to my guns, you start from the farthest compromise possible, and then we’ll talk.

Quite simply, Abbas is a dead-man walking politically. Either he isn’t willing to make peace, or he isn’t able. It’s time for the West to move on, find another leader to prop up and stop pretending that Abbas is the next Nelson Mandela. He isn’t. He hasn’t made peace yet and there’s no indication that’s changing.

Who should the West look to as the new peace-loving Palestinian? That’s a hard call, but perhaps they should start with that 64-year-old man who was sentenced to prison by Abbas’ courts. At least he’s actually trying to talk to Israelis.

(By Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, December 16, 2012)