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Excusing Abbas, Courting Hamas By: P. David Hornik
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A period of about two months every spring in Israel features a succession of major, ancient Jewish and new Israeli holidays—Passover and Shavuot (Pentecost) being in the former category (along with the minor Lag B’Omer) and Holocaust Day, Remembrance Day (for fallen soldiers), and Independence Day (along with relatively minor Jerusalem Day) in the latter. Typically, at least some of the holidays intersect with current affairs in ways that produce deep, often ironic resonances.

Last week, for instance, the eve of Holocaust Day coincided with the address to the Durban II conference in Geneva by Iranian president, Holocaust denier, and genocide-inciter against Israel, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. This week, the approach of Remembrance Day and Independence Day—which occur sequentially in a powerfully symbolic transition from mourning to celebration—coincided with a speech Monday in Ramallah by Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas in which he said, “A Jewish state, what is that supposed to mean? You can call yourselves as you like, but I don’t accept it and I say so publicly.”

As Abbas explained: “All I know is that there is the state of Israel, in the borders of 1967, not one centimeter more, not one centimeter less. Anything else, I don't accept.” He also said resuming talks would require a freeze on settlement construction by Israel.

Those words will not, of course, prompt worries about whether Abbas is being intransigent, jeopardizing the prospects for peace with Israel, or harming the PA’s relations with the United States or Europe. In contrast, recent statements by Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman have generated a whole cottage industry of such allegations.

Among the statements by Netanyahu was, of course, his assertion two weeks ago that Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state was necessary for true peace talks. Apparently fearing that even this was going too far, a few days later Netanyahu clarified that such recognition was not a precondition for talks. Abbas, in his statement on Monday, both contemptuously rebuffed Netanyahu’s demand—if one can even call it that—for recognition and arrogantly set preconditions himself in the full knowledge that, unlike Netanyahu, his peace credentials are considered unimpeachable and he can get away with it.

Meanwhile, also on Monday, the Los Angeles Times reported that “The Obama administration…has opened the door a crack to engagement with the militant group Hamas.” The report, noting that the U.S. defines Hamas as a terrorist organization and, hence, ineligible for aid, explains that “the administration has asked Congress for minor changes in U.S. law that would permit aid to continue flowing to Palestinians in the event Hamas-backed officials become part of a unified Palestinian government.”

It would work like this: if the Palestinians succeeded in forming a second Hamas-Fatah unity government (the first, short-lived one was in 2007), then, to receive aid, Hamas would not even have to meet the “three long-standing criteria [of] recognizing Israel, renouncing violence and agreeing to follow past Israeli-Palestinian agreements.” Instead it would only have to appoint officials to that government who claimed they accepted those criteria while Hamas continued to reject them.

Or—as the Times quotes Rep. Mark Steven Kirk (R.-Ill.) telling Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week at a House hearing—it would mean supporting a government that “only has a few Nazis in it.” Or as another critic, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D.-Ca.), put it, “You couldn’t have the leadership of a terrorist organization pick the ministers in the government, with the power to appoint and withdraw them, and answering to them.”

Clinton, however, asserted that “We don’t want to . . . bind our hands in the event that such an agreement is reached, and the government that [Hamas is] part of agrees to our principles”—or, she could have added, even if it doesn’t.

Once again, then, this week finds Israel having a lot to celebrate and a lot to mourn. On the plus side is Israel’s continued thriving despite all the obstacles. On the negative—the continued inversion of moral norms when it comes to pursuing something called “peace” in regard to the Jewish state.

That includes the harsh, biased portrayal and labeling as “hardliners” of Israeli leaders who make what, in other contexts, would be considered the most minimal demands—such as recognition of their state; the ongoing carte blanche for a clearly hostile figure like Abbas who exploits his privileged status to level retorts at Israel that in normal contexts would be considered unacceptable; and, now, even an opening by the United States to the blatantly genocidal Hamas, which recently staged a play in Gaza portraying Jews as blood-drinkers and showing a Palestinian leading a captured Jew and calling him “pig.”

Actually, this week isn’t that different from last week. Then it was Ahmadinejad getting yet another UN podium; now it’s “peacemaker” Abbas reviling the Jewish state with Hamas—if he could just manage to reconcile with it—waiting in the wings.

But, to repeat, it all resonates, including the affirmation.

P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Beersheva. He blogs at http://pdavidhornik.typepad.com/. He can be reached at pdavidh2001@yahoo.com.

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