A last chance for Mr. Ab­bas

Jerusalem Post - - OBSERVATIONS - • By JOSHUA S. BLOCK (Reuters)

It was re­ported last month that the lead­ers of Jor­dan, Saudi Ara­bia, Egypt and the United Arab Emi­rates are so frus­trated with the Pales­tinian Author­ity’s re­fusal to even con­sider the Mid­dle East peace plan (cur­rently be­ing drawn up by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion) that they would not ob­ject if the Amer­i­can plan by­passed the Pales­tinian lead­er­ship and was pre­sented di­rectly to the Pales­tinian peo­ple.

The White House has ex­pressed ea­ger­ness to ne­go­ti­ate “the ul­ti­mate deal” be­tween the Is­raelis and the Pales­tini­ans – a plan which is still un­der wraps, and the Pales­tini­ans know lit­tle about. That fact, how­ever, hasn’t stopped the PA from cat­e­gor­i­cally re­ject­ing any fi­nal prod­uct out of hand.

This de­lib­er­ate pol­icy of ob­struc­tion and ob­fus­ca­tion is an in­sult to the US and the Amer­i­can peo­ple, who have sent hun­dreds of mil­lions in hard-earned tax dol­lars to the PA ev­ery year for hu­man­i­tar­ian pur­poses. It is also a be­trayal of the Pales­tinian peo­ple, who suf­fer ex­treme hard­ship as a di­rect re­sult of the reck­less de­ci­sion-mak­ing of the PA.

If the PA is dis­sat­is­fied with US peace ef­forts, the way for­ward is more en­gage­ment and con­struc­tive crit­i­cism, not dis­re­spect and boy­cott of an ini­tia­tive that en­joys wide­spread sup­port in the Arab world, and be­yond.

A se­nior Jor­da­nian of­fi­cial ob­served that “Arab states will not be the ones to throw a wrench in the wheels of the peace process, and that [Pales­tinian Author­ity pres­i­dent Mah­moud] Ab­bas’s con­tin­ued re­fusal to work with the Amer­i­cans will lead to a re­gional peace plan be­ing launched with­out him.”

As the Ab­bas era draws to an close and leads to in­creased in­sta­bil­ity in the Pales­tinian ter­ri­to­ries, the PA has a sim­ple choice to make: it can be part of last­ing peace, or the cause of per­pet­ual con­flict. It can help shape his­tory or watch as his­tory is be­ing writ­ten with­out it. It can work with the US, Is­rael and Arab states to bring pros­per­ity to the re­gion, or risk wide­spread iso­la­tion.

Ab­bas, now in the 13th year of a four-year term as pres­i­dent, is at risk of be­com­ing ir­rel­e­vant to the fu­ture of his peo­ple. He has no elec­toral man­date. He will not en­gage with ei­ther the US or Is­rael. And it ap­pears that even the Arab na­tions whose sup­port he needs have grown tired of him.

Dur­ing a meet­ing with Fatah party lead­ers on Sun­day, Ab­bas vowed that Pales­tinian ter­ror­ists and their fam­i­lies will con­tinue to re­ceive stipends – a pol­icy that se­verely un­der­mines the stand­ing of the Pales­tini­ans in the in­ter­na­tional arena.

In March, the US passed the Tay­lor Force Act that would cut off most for­eign aid from the PA if it con­tin­ues to pay ter­ror­ists with blood on their hands and their fam­i­lies. Other coun­tries fol­lowed. Ear­lier this month, the Knes­set voted into law a bill to slash funds to the PA by the amount Ra­mal­lah pays out to con­victed ter­ror­ists and their rel­a­tives. Aus­tralia and Nor­way have taken sim­i­lar steps to con­demn the PA’s in­cite­ment of ter­ror­ism.

Ac­cord­ing to the De­fense Min­istry, the PA in 2017 paid $198 mil­lion to the so-called “mar­tyrs’ fam­i­lies fund” and an ad­di­tional $160m. to the Pales­tinian Pris­on­ers’ Club – some 7% of its to­tal bud­get.

Ab­bas claims to be a man of peace. Yet, in re­al­ity, he in­cites and re­wards terror. How can he re­verse the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion? How can he lead his peo­ple to in­de­pen­dence and se­cure a place for him­self in his­tory?

Ab­bas could re­lax his grip on Pales­tinian pol­i­tics, cut down on cor­rup­tion, and make his govern­ment more trans­par­ent. He could also re­lax his con­trol over the econ­omy and al­low for the growth of a pri­vate sec­tor. But most im­por­tantly, he must change his out­look from fos­ter­ing “re­sis­tance” to Is­rael to en­cour­ag­ing co­op­er­a­tion with Is­rael.

None of this will be easy. In pol­i­tics the tough­est thing for a per­son to do is to vol­un­tar­ily cede power and con­trol. But years of re­sis­tance to com­pro­mise has failed to achieve Pales­tinian state­hood.

US pol­i­cy­mak­ers en­gaged in the new round of peace ne­go­ti­a­tions must make two ba­sic stip­u­la­tions. First, the PA must ac­cept the re­al­ity that Is­rael is here to stay as the na­tion state of the Jewish peo­ple. This should be a no-brainer, but by no means is a given. Ab­bas in the past has pub­licly stated, “I will never ac­cept a Jewish state” and “I’ve said it be­fore, and I’ll say it again: I will never rec­og­nize the Jewish­ness of the state, or a ‘Jewish state.’”

Sec­ond, no agree­ment can be signed un­til the Pales­tini­ans with­hold money to ter­ror­ists. Their lead­er­ship must carry a mes­sage of peace based on facts and re­al­ity, not dis­sem­i­nate an ide­ol­ogy based on ha­tred and con­spir­acy, and cer­tainly not on vi­o­lence and in­cite­ment.

If Ab­bas stays the course, he will be re­mem­bered only for hav­ing sac­ri­ficed the dreams of his peo­ple for the con­sol­i­da­tion of his own wealth and power and putting con­tin­ued con­flict ahead of Is­raeli-Pales­tinian peace.

By re­ject­ing the US peace plan out of hand, Ab­bas and the PA for now have demon­strated yet again that they lack the courage to em­brace gen­uine peace. Only when Pales­tinian lead­ers want their own state more than they want to de­stroy the Jewish state, can the man­date of 1947 – two states for two peo­ples – see the light of day.

The writer is CEO and pres­i­dent of The Is­rael Pro­ject.

A PALES­TINIAN demon­stra­tor protest­ing on ‘Nakba Day.’

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