MARTIN SHERMAN: ABU WHO?
It is difficult to conceive of anything more imbecilic than the debate raging over whether Mahmoud Abbas’s recent declarations are sincere.
Insanity in individuals is something rare – but in groups, parties [and] nations. It is the rule. At times one remains faithful to a cause only because its opponents do not cease to be insipid.
Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies. – Friedrich Nietzsche (1844- 1900) These excerpts convey much of the dysfunctional and directionless condition into which Israel’s political system has descended. This was vividly underscored by the maelstrom of mindless chatter from a gamut of politicians and pundits across the spectrum of political opinion in Israel, which last Friday’s Channel 2 interview with the nominal head of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas (a.k.a. Abu Mazen), unleashed.
For the Israeli public it was (or, at least, should have been) a distressing indication of how shallow and shortsighted the discourse on issues of crucial national import has become, and a disturbing display of the predictably facile, almost Pavlovian responses of the country’s leadership to them – on both sides of the political divide.
The debate that raged in the wake of the interview centered on divergent assessments of Abbas’s sincerity as to whether he had genuinely forsaken the sacred Palestinian tenet of the “right of return” and forsworn violence as a means to achieve Palestinian goals.
Unsurprisingly, on the so-called political Left, his words were greeted with coos of rapture. Both Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni enthusiastically embraced his declarations as proof that Israel has a credible “peace partner,” and excoriated Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for not seizing the alleged “opportunity” to restart the “peace process.” Shimon Peres, who as president should refrain from any contentious politically partisan issues, gushed with effusive praise, proclaiming: “His brave words prove that Abu Mazen is a real partner for peace. We need to bravely extend our hand out in peace to a leader like Abbas.”
No less predictably, figures associated with the Right were gruffly dismissive of Abbas’s ostensible moderate pragmatism.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman rejected it as ploy designed to “interfere with [Israeli] elections on behalf of the Left” – a claim subsequently substantiated by none other than Abbas’s spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, who only a day after the interview declared that its “purpose was to influence Israeli public opinion.”
The response from Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar was similarly negative, charging that the Palestinian leader’s statements were incompatible with his actions.
A communiqué issued by Netanyahu’s office expressed equal skepticism, saying that there was “no connection” between Abbas’s words and deeds, and discounted his rhetoric, deeming it meaningless and “empty promises.”
Skepticism well merited
The grounds for skepticism regarding Abbas’s true intentions are, of course, manifest and myriad.
Indeed, “clarifications” (read “retractions”) were issued at a dizzying pace. No sooner had Abbas expressed his much lauded “moderation,” than he began to recant.
As mentioned, on the very day after the interview, his spokesman Abu Rudeineh began frantically backpedalling. In Al-Hayat al-Jadida, the official daily of the Palestinian Authority, he asserted that “the president and the Palestinian leadership will not agree to forsake the right of return.”
One day later, the paper ran the following headline: “The President: I never gave up on and never will give up on the right of return.”
In the subsequent article, Abbas makes clear that what he had said on Channel 2 was “my own personal position, and it did not mean giving up the right of return.”
None of this rapid self-repudiation saved Abbas from castigation by his Palestinian rivals. It goes almost without saying that they were vehemently rejected by Hamas, which seized on his interview with glee, declaring (with considerable justification) that his statements “are conclusive proof that the man represents only himself, and has lost popular national legitimacy.”
Al Jazeera carried a scathing condemnation of Abbas’s professed positions by Ramallahbased activist/journalist Linah Alsaafin, who charged that they “prove that he has lost touch with the Palestinian people.”
Casting doubt on Abbas’s authority, Alsaafin continued accusingly: “Considering his presidential term is expired since 2009, he really doesn’t have the legitimacy to act in the name of the Palestinians and come out with such outlandish statements.
Abbas has succeeded in uniting the Palestinian people against his words, they are united in disgust and protest.”
Denial and dysfunction
Regrettably, the Israeli response to both the retraction of his “message of moderation” by Abbas himself, and its caustic repudiation by a considerable segment of the Palestinian population, was far from fitting.
Neither the rescinding nor the rejection induced any admission on the part of the PC (Palestinian-compliant) Left that their effusive embrace of his declaration might have been a touch premature, never mind misplaced.
Undeterred by inconvenient facts or recalcitrant realities, the adherents of the two-state solution (TSS) cling to their disproven dogma with a frenzied obsession, which under other circumstances might well be considered certifiable, lest they inflict harm on themselves and their surroundings.
As the realty-resistant Livni wailed: “Whoever is interested in preserving a secure Jewish and democratic state, should embrace this interview. But peace has turned into a dirty word – whoever talks of an agreement is now considered a delusional leftist.”
And with good reason, Ms. Livni, with good reason.
Lamentably, on the other end of the political spectrum, the reaction to, and the conclusions drawn from, this episode have been no more appropriate, and scarcely more rational.
Instead of seizing on it as yet further evidence (as if any were needed) that the TSS is nothing but a dangerous delusion, and therefore proof that other, Zionist-compliant, paradigms must be sought, the typical response has been that all this demonstrated is that the Palestinians have not shown themselves to be ready for such a solution – at least not yet.
The leopard’s spots
This policy has as much merit as waiting for a leopard to change its spots and morph in to a cuddly kitten.
After a century of conflict and almost a quarter-century of the post-Oslowian “peace process,” one might have hoped that not only would the penny have dropped, but that Israel would have been able to convey, conclusively and convincingly, the news of the coin’s belated fall to the international community.
The attitude of the Palestinians, as a collective, of immutable enmity is a function not of what the Palestinians have or do not have, but of who the Palestinians are.
Conversely, it is a function, not of what the Jewish state does or doesn’t do, but of what the Jewish state is.
Thus, other than ceasing to be what it is, there is no decision variable that the Jewish state can influence to attenuate Palestinian enmity, or to enhance the feasibility of the TSS.
Accordingly, it behooves the professed pro-Zionist elements in the country to discard the futile attempt to resurrect the unresurrectible, and to set about charting an alternative course and a fresh configuration for the destiny of Israel as the democratic nation-state of the Jewish people.
(An appeal to adversarial readers/talkbackers: Please do not write in saying I offer no such alternative. Kindly consult the numerous articles in which I have done so, before sending in the usual unsubstantiated recriminations).
Irrelevance of sincerity
Actually, the dispute over Abu Mazen’s sincerity is entirely irrelevant. For even if there was good reason to believe he was sincere, this has – or at least should have – no bearing on Israeli policy.
For not only has the near octogenarian exceeded his elected term by what will soon be almost half-a-decade, creating grave uncertainty not only as to his personal status, but that of his regime, with his unelected prime minister, Salam Fayyad, continually teetering on the brink of resignation, because of widespread allegations of corruption and mismanagement.
This, in itself, is enough to preclude a responsible government from placing much store on any professions of peaceful intent from Abbas or in the durability of any agreement/understanding reached with him or his regime – even if it were done so with complete sincerity.
For not only are there serious concerns as to whether an Abbas-led Palestinian administration could sustain any arrangement arrived at with Israel, even if it wanted to, but as to whether it could sustain itself in the wake of such an arrangement, especially in light of the rejectionist winds blowing through the Arab-world in the post-“Spring” era.
Both sober analysis and precedent strongly suggest that it could not.
Now, if one has no way of influencing – much less, controlling – whether a purportedly peaceable Abbas-regime can/will rein in its rejectionist renegades, why consider perilous concessions based on the crucial assumption that it can? If one has no way to ensure that an Abbas-regime will not be forced to bow, however reluctantly, to the wishes – or to abdicate in favor – of radical Islamist rivals, would it not be wildly irresponsible and irrational to undertake a policy that hinges entirely on the assumption that it will not? See what we mean by “delusional,” Ms. Livni?
Indeed, imagine, Ms. Linvi, the dread that would reign in the country today had Israel evacuated the Golan Heights in compliance with an agreement with the Assad regime – made on the assumption of mutual sincerity – if al-Qaida-affiliated elements were to take control in Damascus.
The scale of the gamble
In assessing the plausibility of far-reaching territorial concessions to the Palestinians – not only to co-signatories of some mutually agreed accord, but to possible successor-regimes as well – it is essential to understand the strategic significance of such concessions, and the cost of error should they accrue to hostile elements.
Along with many others, I have repeatedly detailed how the territory designated for a Palestinian state would provide total control not only of the main runway at Israel’s only international airport and of the traffic on its major rail and road arteries (including the Trans-Israel highway), but also of vital infrastructure installations/ systems and about 80 percent the country’s civilian population and commercial activity.
Even a fraction of the rocket capability deployed in the nominally demilitarized Gaza Strip, or in the hands of the Hezbollah in south Lebanon (allegedly disarmed by the terms of ineffectual and counterproductive UN Resolution 1701, brokered by the above cited Ms. Livni) would make the maintenance of any socioeconomic routine in Israel’s coastal megalopolis untenable.
But beyond the well-known and well-discussed security-related strategic risks entailed in foregoing control of Judea and Samaria, there are numerous other, lessfrequently raised, perils that could have drastically detrimental – even deadly – affects on Israeli citizens.
Giant leap of faith
For example, in 2004, Israel’s Water Commission (today Water Authority) cautioned that relinquishing control of the water resources, and unregulated Palestinian extraction, could have disastrous consequences within the pre-1967 Green Line.
Ominously, it warned: “In the northern valleys alone, the potential loss of water and the increasing salinity will lead to the desertification of the entire region, damaging the quality of life of its residents, devastate agriculture and tourism, and destroy the unique communities in these areas.”
More recently, the issue of carcinogenic smoke emitted by hundreds of charcoal producing sites within the Palestinian administered areas was declared by Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan “a threat to Israel’s security.”
When Israel closed down plants operating in Israeli-controlled Area C, they reopened in Palestinian-controlled Area B, where Israel has no civilian jurisdiction.
Despite the fact that Palestinians suffer from the pollution even more than Israelis (in some Palestinian sites near Jenin, the high incidence of cancer and asthma has reduced the average life expectancy to 40), the Palestinian Authority has refused to act, ignoring Israeli requests to do so.
It would take a giant leap of faith in Palestinian altruism to believe that once Israel evacuated the entire “West Bank,” these environmental issues impacting the lives and livelihoods of Israelis inside the Green Line would be dealt with with any greater energy or efficacy.
Back to Nietzsche
Have another glance at the introductory quotations from Nietzsche.
Then consider the “compulsive convictions” of the political Left that are “more dangerous than lies” on the one hand, and the “insipid” response from the political Right, which permits its delusional “opponents to remain faithful to their [disastrous] course,” on the other, and you will have a good insight into the mechanics of the “insanity” that drives the Israeli political system.
The imbecilic response to the Abbas interview is merely a sad symptom of the malaise.
Martin Sherman (www.martinsherman.net) is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.
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