This article was originally published in the Huffington Post.
By Alon Ben-Meir
As an advocate of a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians, I was appalled by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ recent speech at the United Nations. Instead of using the occasion to provide constructive proposals and employ reconciliatory language to advance the cause of peace, he engaged in acrimonious and discordant statements against Israel that did nothing but further alienate the Israeli public, whose support he needs the most to realize Palestinian aspirations.
I wonder if Abbas has any clue how his irresponsible public utterances reinforce the negative perceptions between the Israelis and Palestinians and perpetuate the endemic hostility, which has and remains the core evil that has thwarted all peace efforts in the past.
He gave a campaign-style speech, appealing to his own public in an effort to salvage his sagging popularity. But he ignored the key fact—he wasn’t in Ramallah; he was in New York addressing the international community.
To be sure, as the late Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban once said: “The Arabs [Palestinians] never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” Abbas’ performance was a classic case of this phrase.
His failure to strike a balance between his justifiable resistance to the occupation and the need to rally the support of the Israeli public was a serious blunder, deeply injurious to the Palestinian cause.
In his polarizing speech, Abbas spared no deprecating characterization of Israel, accusing it of committing genocide three times, a horrifying term that enraged Israelis, who know the true meaning of the highly loaded word. Israelis also know that their army took every precaution to protect the lives of innocent Palestinian civilians during the latest bout of fighting.
Furthermore, Abbas invoked the word Nakba (the “catastrophe” of 1948) five times, which does nothing but enflame emotional outbursts anew.
He even referred to Israel as a racist state seven times, undoubtedly not thinking that such maligning attribution would undermine the negotiating process and intensify mistrust.
He recklessly used the word fascist twice, but however cruel the Israeli occupation may be, ascribing such a revolting word reminds the Israelis of their own victimhood. Conversely, this hardens rather than lessens their antagonism and enmity toward the Palestinians.
As if the above charges are insufficient to paint the “true face” of Israel, Abbas throws in, for good measure, another vile characterization of Israel as an apartheid and terrorist state.
Abbas strongly denounced Israel’s massive air attacks against Gaza, but did not even allude to the nearly 4,000 rockets fired indiscriminately by Hamas at Israel’s urban centers, including Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem.
Abbas rightfully condemned the abduction of a young Palestinian boy, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, who was gruesomely burned alive, but conveniently forgot the kidnapping and murdering of three Israeli teenagers by Hamas’ operatives—Naftali Frankel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach—which precipitated the latest Israel-Hamas war.
As I read and reread Abbas’ speech, I wondered who the advisors are that recommended he go on a tirade against Israel in front of the international community, instead of putting forth constructive and credible plans that would advance the Palestinian quest for a state of their own.
Demanding an end to the occupation within an unspecified period is not a plan; to threaten to turn to the International Criminal Court is not a plan; to join Hamas without insisting that it renounce violence is not a plan.
He should have started by seeking the support of the international community to resettle the Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza, instead of using them as political pawns for seven decades.
For Abbas to fall into the trap that Hamas carefully dug for him suggests only one thing: squeezed between Israel and Hamas, Abbas lost his bearings. He knows only too well that Hamas seeks his political demise and he has succumbed to the bitter reality of Palestinian factionalism and Hamas’ whims.
That said, Abbas can still play an important role in the upcoming Israeli-Hamas negotiations in Cairo and assert his leadership prowess. He can do so by insisting the Palestinian Authority assume control over the security in Gaza, which both Egypt and Israel insist upon.
He must also make it abundantly clear to Hamas that the Palestinian Authority will not come to its aid under the false pretenses of a unity government unless Hamas cease to provoke Israel and gradually demilitarize Gaza. Otherwise, no power can force Israel to lift the blockade.
Unfortunately, there is only a small chance that the negotiations in Egypt could lead to such an outcome. But then, this is the only outcome that can save Abbas politically and spare the Palestinians in Gaza from another disastrous confrontation with Israel.
This may well be his last opportunity—one he cannot afford to miss
Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs and senior fellow at the World Policy Institute.