abbas and arafat

Abbas is in no hurry to return to the negotiating table with Israel. Indeed, for Abbas, there is no negotiation – only demands.

By: Khaled Abu Toameh/The Gatestone Institute

Last week, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas tipped his hand concerning his ultimatum on any revival of the peace process with Israel.

“I’m 81 years old and I’m not going to end my life drooping, making concessions or selling out.”

Thus declared a defiant Abbas at a rally in Ramallah, marking the 12th anniversary of the death of his predecessor, arch-terrorist Yasser Arafat.

Abbas in this way relayed to the hundreds of Palestinians who gathered in Ramallah to commemorate Arafat: “I have no intention of going down in history as a leader who compromised with Israel.”

Like Arafat, Abbas would rather die intransigent than achieve a peaceful settlement with Israel.

Yet the position of the two Palestinian leaders is deeply rooted in the Palestinian tradition and culture, in which any concession to or compromise with Israel is considered an act of high treason.

‘We Want All of Jerusalem, All of it, All of it’

Upon returning to Ramallah in the summer of 2000, after following the botched Camp David summit, Arafat explained his decision to reject the offer made by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. According to Arafat, Barak wanted the Palestinians to make concessions concerning Jerusalem and its holy sites.

“He who relinquishes one grain of soil of the land of Jerusalem does not belong to our people,” Arafat announced. “We want all of Jerusalem, all of it, all of it. Revolution until victory!”

At Camp David, Arafat and his negotiators demanded full sovereignty over the entire West Bank (Judea and Samaria), Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, including its holy sites and the Jewish Quarter in the Old City. They also repeated their long-standing demand that the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees be fully implemented, allowing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to flock into Israel.

Barak, for his part, is said to have offered the Palestinians a state that would be established on 91% of the West Bank, large parts of east Jerusalem and the entire Gaza Strip. What is certain is that Barak wanted the Palestinian leader to make some concessions on the explosive issues of Jerusalem and refugees.

The Camp David summit failed the moment Arafat realized that he was not going to get all of his demands met. Arafat later informed his confidants that he walked out of the summit because he did not want to go down into history as a leader who succumbed to Israeli and American pressure.

Fast-forward 16 years: Abbas stands near Arafat’s grave in Ramallah and spouts similar sentiments. Vowing to continue in Arafat’s path and honor his legacy, Abbas said that these days he was being “inspired” by his predecessor’s “determination” and “resolve.”

Abbas is at least up-front in his intentions. No one, he says unashamedly — not the Israelis nor the Americans nor the Europeans — ought to harbor any illusions. “Peace” with the Palestinians, says Abbas, means Israel fulfilling each and every demand he — and Arafat — has made. “Peace,” in other words, with no Palestinian concessions.

Arafat Died Without ‘Selling Out’ to Israel

Arafat continues to enjoy massive popularity among Palestinians because he died without “selling out” to Israel. His hero status hinges on his rejectionism at Camp David.

Had Arafat accepted Barak’s offer at that summit, he would have been condemned as a “pawn” in the hands of the Israelis and Americans, a failed leader who betrayed his people.

Abbas’s self-fashioning himself in the guise of Arafat is not new. For many years, he has been following in the footsteps of Arafat and honoring his legacy. Moreover, Abbas is well aware that, like Arafat, he is not authorized by his people to make any concessions to Israel. This is not merely because Abbas is now in his 12th year of a four-year-term in office.

Even if Abbas were a legitimate president, no concessions to Israel would be forthcoming. Arafat was quoted back then as saying that he rejected the Barak offer because he did not want to end up drinking tea with assassinated Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, the first Arab leader to sign a peace agreement with Israel.

Thus, Abbas is in no hurry to return to the negotiating table with Israel. Indeed, for Abbas, there is no negotiation — only demands. He knows that concessions on his part would result in being spat upon by his people — or killed.

Hence the PA president has in recent years avoided even the pretense of negotiations with Israel, and instead has poured his energies into strong-arming the international community to impose a solution on Israel — one that would indeed supply the Palestinians with nearly all their demands.

Abbas and the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah want the international community to hand them what Israel will not give them at the negotiating table. Abbas is hoping to achieve his goal through international conferences on the Middle East, like the one being floated around by France, or through the United Nations and other international agencies and institutions.

Abbas’ Strategy: A Diplomatic War

In fact, this has been Abbas’s sole strategy in recent years: a diplomatic war in the international arena that is aimed at isolating and delegitimizing Israel, in order to force it to comply with all Palestinian demands.

Of course, this strategy has its risks. Yet, if it fails, Abbas will at least depart the scene without being branded with the scarlet letter of “traitor.” His successor, he hopes, will stand next to his grave and pledge to follow in his footsteps, as he himself has done for Arafat. And this is not an idle hope.

Thanks to decades of indoctrination and anti-Israel rhetoric, for which both Arafat and Abbas are also responsible, Palestinians have been radicalized to the point where it is impossible to identify a single leader who would negotiate in good faith with Israel.

Under the current circumstances, any attempt by the Obama Administration — in its remaining months in power — to support a United Nations vote in favor of a Palestinian state will be seen as a reward to those Palestinians who are opposed to a resumption of peace negotiations with Israel.

Many in Europe, particularly France, seem be aching to do just that — as a “present” to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to show how submissive the French can be; to encourage more “business” with Arab and Muslim states, and, they might hope, to deter more terrorist attacks. Actually, if the members of the UN Security Council declare a Palestinian state unilaterally, they are encouraging more terrorist attacks: the terrorists will see that attacks “work” and embark on more of them to help the jihadi takeover of Europe go even faster.

The Obama Administration (and the next US Administration) need to make it clear to Abbas and the Palestinians that the only way to achieve a state is through direct negotiations with Israel, and not additional UN resolutions.

Similarly, the French would do well to abandon their plan for convening an international conference on peace in the Middle East. They need to understand that Abbas and the Palestinians are hoping to use the conference as an excuse to stay away from the negotiating table with Israel — the only country that could really help the Palestinians achieve a state through direct talks. Declaring a Palestinian state in the Security Council only makes them look as if their actual goal is to destroy Israel by allying “two sides of the Mediterranean” against Israel — and they know it. They would be fooling no one.

The message that needs to be relayed to the Palestinians is that UN resolutions and international conferences will not bring them closer to achieving their aspirations. Another message that needs to be driven home to the Palestinian leadership is that without preparing their people for peace and compromise with Israel, the whole idea of a two-state solution is meaningless.

An entire Palestinian generation has been raised on the poisonous idea that even the consideration of compromise with Israel is traitorous. The next US Administration might do well to consider this unpleasant reality.

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Source: United with Israel