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Abbas Stonewalls, World Yawns By: P. David Hornik
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, July 14, 2009

“‘Moderate’ Palestinian Leader Refuses to Meet with Israelis.”  

Chances are you haven’t seen that headline—I made it up. But it refers to something that really happened just this week, when Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas told reporters in Ramallah that talks with the Netanyahu government are no-go until it accepts the two-state solution and freezes all construction in West Bank settlements.  

That may seem strange, since Netanyahu has said he now accepts the two-state solution, both in a speech on June 14 and in a cabinet session on July 5. (That move did get wide publicity.) Netanyahu’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, has also spoken positively of a Palestinian state, and his defense minister, Ehud Barak, is a longtime dove who offered a Palestinian state to Yasser Arafat in 2000.  

Abbas’s insistence on a total construction freeze also seems strange, since he held intensive talks with the previous government of Ehud Olmert, even as construction was continuing in larger settlements.

Indeed, Abbas’s “nay” came in response to Netanyahu’s call to him that same day to “make peace, both diplomatic and economic. There is no reason why we can’t meet anywhere in Israel.” Netanyahu also stressed the Palestinians’ “basic right to live in peace, security and prosperity” and the fact that his government has “made great efforts in recent weeks to ease their lives”—among other things, removing numerous West Bank roadblocks and improving conditions at the Israeli-Jordanian border.

Some say, of course, that Netanyahu has cleverly turned the tables on Abbas and put him in a box by stressing the demilitarization of the Palestinian state and the fact that Abbas’s “moderate” government refuses to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. It’s also said that Abbas is counting on the Obama administration to “deliver” Israel in any case and sees no point in resuming negotiations now. Abbas, competing for popularity with Hamas, may also not want to be perceived as “weak” by holding talks with what is still considered a “right-wing” government.

But those interpretations aside, the fact remains: the Israeli prime minister has called for negotiations, and the Palestinian president has responded with a flat-out no. If it was the reverse—“Netanyahu Refuses to Meet with Palestinians”—it would mean big news, a crisis in U.S.-Israeli relations. But portraying Netanyahu as conciliatory and Abbas as intransigent—even if this is what has actually happened—goes so against the media grain, and the dominant political conceptions, that the contrast gets downplayed and generally ignored.

It is, indeed, part of an old pattern where the Palestinians are not held responsible for anything they do and Palestinian statehood is treated as a sacrosanct goal in itself. In addition to, and in fact much more dramatically than, removing roadblocks, Netanyahu could also have mentioned that Israel recently gave increased security control to Palestinian battalions in four West Bank cities. The battalions are trained in Jordan under U.S. Lt.-Gen. Keith Dayton, and three more are currently under training there, with a total of ten supposed to be deployed in the West Bank by 2012.

This at a time when Palestinian Authority TV recently boasted, as part of a “competition” with Hamas, about the lynch murder of two off-duty Israeli soldiers in Ramallah in 2000, and a mainstream activist from Abbas’s Fatah told PA TV that “It has been said that we are negotiating for peace, but our goal has never been peace. Peace is a means; the goal is Palestine.”

Among much else, such as: the Fatah flag still shows all of Israel under rifles; children in the PA are routinely taught that Israeli cities within the 1967 borders are “Palestinian cities”; and the PA recently named a computer center after Dalal Mughrabi, a female terrorist who led a 1978 bus hijacking in Israel that killed 37 civilians including 12 children. But with the term “Palestinian intransigence” still not having been invented, it doesn’t even merit a blip.

Meanwhile it was reported that Israel’s haredi (ultra-religious Jewish) population faces a major housing crunch, with “thousands of young couples…living in converted storage rooms, garages, parking lots and even garbage bin rooms because they have no other choice.” The reason: construction in two large haredi West Bank settlements, Modi’in Illit and Betar Illit, has already been frozen and they have nowhere to go. The reason for that: Israel is demanded to hold West Bank land in perpetuity for the Palestinians no matter how they behave—no matter how much terrorism, hate education, glorification of terrorism, incitement.

Prime Minister Netanyahu appears to have adopted an approach of playing along with the game while trying to avoid being perceived as an obstacle to peace. Under a positive scenario, he would succeed in holding both the Palestinians and the Obama administration at bay while achieving reasonable harmony with the latter. Under a negative scenario, by 2012 the murderously hostile—as ever—Palestinian Authority would be bristling with ten armed battalions after another rash Israeli retreat.  

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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