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Bid Farewell to Abbas, Barrier to Progress
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has threatened to give up his leadership if Israel does not satisfy his demands for a complete settlement freeze. Rather than beg him to stay and pressure Israel to cave in to his demands, Abbas should be told not to let the door hit him on the way out; he's been a catastrophic failure for the Palestinians and an obstacle to peace.
Abbas has been the world's preferred Palestinian because, compared to everyone else, he is a "moderate." Over the last six years, however, he has proven that while he does not use the genocidal rhetoric of extremists, he is not willing or able to negotiate a deal for a Palestinian state beside the Jewish state.
As with his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, his champions like to ignore his intemperate statements, but they do not understand the depth of his commitment to certain core principles, such as the "right of return" of Palestinian refugees, which he knows is a nonstarter for even liberal Israelis.
Abbas has rejected repeated Israeli peace offers. Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said: "At Camp David, they offered 90 percent [it was actually 97 percent] and [recently] they offered 100 percent. So why should we hurry, after all the injustice we have suffered?" Echoing the three nays of 1967, Palestinians declared at the Fatah conference in Bethlehem in August: no negotiations with Israel, no recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and no end to the armed struggle against Israel.
He missed a golden opportunity to build the infrastructure of a state in Gaza after Israel withdrew. Instead, he opposed the withdrawal, preferring "occupation" to recognizing Israel and beginning to govern. His failure to capitalize on Israel's evacuation was a major factor in the Hamas takeover that has left him president of only a fraction of the Palestinian Authority.
His loss of Gaza revealed another reason why Abbas is an impediment to peace, namely his political impotence. He has never been popular with the Palestinian people and does not enjoy the loyalty of the armed factions in the P.A. This was obvious when his forces gave up without a serious fight when Hamas staged its coup.
The United States and Israel have tried to strengthen Abbas so that he doesn't lose his tenuous hold on power in the West Bank, but to what end? If he decided tomorrow to become a Zionist, he does not have the authority among Palestinians to carry out any agreement he might sign and whatever deal he made would not apply to Gaza. This is why Israelis long ago gave up on Abbas.
The settlement issue is a red herring.
The Palestinians have negotiated for years without a settlement freeze. Moreover, the best thing the Palestinians can do to ensure settlement growth is to continue their refusal to negotiate an agreement. When they turned down former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin's autonomy proposal, there were about 12,000 Jews in the territories. Today, there are nearly 300,000. If they hold out in the hope that U.S. President Barack Obama or someone else will force Israel out of the territories, the number will only continue to grow.
Abbas has refused to make a deal with three different Israeli prime ministers, and there is no reason to expect that a change in Israeli leadership would make him any less intransigent. Rather than continuing to try to pressure Israel to make concessions that will make no difference, it's time to look to the future -- to a time when perhaps a Palestinian leader will emerge who respects the will of the people who say they prefer to live in peace to pursuing a futile and endless strategy of "resistance."
Mitchell Bard is the author of more than 20 books, including Will Israel Survive? and 48 Hours of Kristallnacht: Night of Destruction/Dawn of the Holocaust.