Pictured: Then Palestinian Authority (PA) leader Yasser Arafat (seated left) with then PA Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (seated right) on April 29, 2003. (Photo by David Silverman/Getty Images)
Why did Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas recently reject an offer to meet with White House advisors Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt?
According to a report in the London-based, Arabic-language newspaper Al-Hayat, Abbas viewed the reported offer as an attempt by the Americans to push the Palestinians into agreeing to a peace process favorable to Israel.
Abbas and his PA leadership have been boycotting the US administration since President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital in December 2017.
Abbas's refusal to meet with the Trump envoys did not come as a surprise. In fact, in light of his anti-Israel rhetoric in the past few months, the Palestinian leader's decision was expected.
Consider, for example, what Abbas said in an address to the Central Council of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in January 2018, in which he approvingly quoted Egyptian intellectual Abdel-Wahab El-Messiri's denial of the 3,000-year Jewish connection to Israel:
"The functional nature of Israel means that it was evoked by colonialism in order to fulfill a specific function, and thus it constitutes a colonialist enterprise that has nothing to do with Judaism."
Abbas also called for discarding past agreements with Israel, declared his refusal of any mediating role played by the U.S., and called for an international conference and mediation treating Israel the same way the international community had dealt with Iran and its nuclear program.
Abbas and the Palestinians' frustration with a peace process which they perceive as being biased in favor of Israel may be understandable. Some observers believe that Abbas's opposition to America's role as a mediator in the peace process reflects his and the Palestinians' despair at the lack of any progress toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
A recent poll showed that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians (88%) views the American role in the peace process as being biased in favor of Israel. Another poll indicated that 93.5% believe that U.S. is no longer an impartial peace broker. In two other polls, 65% and 73.5% respectively said that they are against the resumption of contacts with the Trump administration.
Three recent polls also showed that 73%, 71% and 68% respectively believe that the chances for establishing an independent Palestinian state are slim or nonexistent, and 71.3% believe the two-state solution is no longer viable after Trump's Jerusalem declaration.
The question that needs to be asked is: Is Palestinian public opinion, brought on by decades of incitement, what is pressuring Abbas into embarking on his anti-peace and anti-Israel rhetoric? 50% of Palestinians oppose the peace process and 52% of Palestinians support the resolutions made by the PLO's Central Council in January, including revoking the recognition of Israel, and the abrogation of the Oslo Accords.
True, many ordinary Palestinians may be anti-Israel, and their sense of disappointment reinforces this attitude. Those, however, who argue that Abbas's anti-peace rhetoric is the result of despair, and a natural response to public opinion, are ignoring certain landmarks in the history of the 82-year-old Palestinian leader.
In 2003, when Abbas served as prime minister under the leadership of his Yasser Arafat, he portrayed himself as a pro-peace national leader. In what was described back then as a "brave" speech renouncing terrorism, Abbas said at the Mideast summit in Jordan:
" We are ready to do our part. Let me be very clear: There will be no military solution for this conflict, so we repeat our renunciation and the renunciation of terrorism against the Israelis wherever they might be."
As part of his effort to strengthen his pro-peace image, Abbas declared at his inauguration ceremony after being elected to succeed Arafat in January 2005:
"Today, I say to the Israeli leadership and Israeli people, we are two peoples destined to live side by side, and to share this land ... let's start working together on the issues of the permanent settlement and status to put an eternal end to our conflict."
But is this the Abbas we have known since then?
Abbas, who has been described as "in the twilight of his reign.... and challenged by younger upstarts," is frustrated by his Arab brethren and the U.S., and overwhelmed with Palestinians' distrust. He has obviously regressed into the legacy of former Palestinian leaders and renowned nationalist Arab heads of state and dictators.
Abbas has chosen to endorse a legacy that he himself denounced in 2011. This legacy does not consider the lack of a Palestinian state to be the problem, but the existence of a Jewish and democratic state. It is a legacy that does not believe in peace with Israel but peace without Israel.
Has Abbas been trying to prove to his people that he is a hardliner and a strong, national leader in order to win their support? If so, his desperate attempt does not seem to have gained him any significant support. Currently, 63% of Palestinians are dissatisfied with Abbas's performance as president of the Palestinian Authority, while 68% would like to see him step down.
Moreover, Abbas's chances of winning if there were another presidential election are slim. Palestinians do not trust him or believe in his radical rhetoric. It appears that 65% believe Abbas will not implement the decisions made by the PLO's Central Council in January.
In his speech before the Council in January, Abbas was again revealing an inconvenient truth: that he and his people do not believe in peace with Israel. This is a legacy that consists of a correlation between Palestinian national goals and the annihilation of the Jewish state.
Abbas is an oppressive dictator -- now in his 14th year of his four-year-term in office. He is, however, also a weak leader. The majority of his people do not trust him, are dissatisfied with his leadership, and demand that he resign. He is unable and unwilling to help his people abandon nationalist and Islamist delusions and myths representing outdated objectives, beliefs, and rhetoric. At this point, he cannot grow out of them. In short, Abbas has duplicated the mistakes of Arafat.
A. Z. Mohamed is a Muslim born and raised in the Middle East.