The main reason behind the rise to power of the far-right parties in the recent general election in Israel is that many Israelis believe that Israel has no partner for peace on the Palestinian side. This, in addition to the growing sense of dismay among Israelis as a result of Palestinian violence and terrorism, which saw a significant upsurge in 2022.
The widespread belief in Israel that the Palestinian Authority and its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, are not partners for peace is not baseless. Moreover, the dismay is justified.
The 87-year-old Abbas has publicly admitted that he turned down a chance for a two-state deal with Israel in 2008. The deal, made by then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, would have given Abbas nearly all the land the Palestinians wanted in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem.
Abbas's predecessor, Yasser Arafat, had also rejected a generous offer he received in 2000 from another Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak. The Israeli proposal included the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state on some 92% of the West Bank and 100% of the Gaza Strip, as well as turning east Jerusalem into the capital of a Palestinian state.
"He [Arafat] did not negotiate in good faith; indeed, he did not negotiate at all," Barak was later quoted as saying.
A few months after Arafat turned down the offer at the Camp David summit, held under the auspices of then US President Bill Clinton, the Palestinians launched the Second Intifada, which included a wave of suicide bombings and other terror attacks in which more than a thousand Israelis were murdered, and many more wounded. The Palestinian war marked the beginning of a trend that saw Israelis lose faith in the Palestinians' living up to their signed commitments. Many Israelis then began shifting to the right.
The trend grew after the full Israeli withdrawal – with no reciprocal action at all asked of the Palestinians -- from the Gaza Strip in 2005. Instead of welcoming the Israeli move, the Palestinians responded with more terrorism against Israel. "The Israelis totally withdrew because they were being shot at?" went Palestinian thinking; "Great! Let's keep shooting at them!"
The Gaza Strip, home to some two million Palestinians, has since been turned into a large base for Iranian-backed terror groups such as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Israeli hopes that the "disengagement" from the Gaza Strip would bring peace and security were quickly dashed.
Abbas, meanwhile, has done little to regain the confidence of the Israeli public. In fact, he has done almost everything to confirm the doubts of the Israelis: that the Palestinians are not interested in making peace with Israel.
Abbas's ongoing glorification of terrorists, his "pay-for-slay" program generously rewarding the families of imprisoned and dead terrorists, his vicious incitement and efforts to isolate Israel in the international arena, as well as his failure to crack down on terrorism in areas under his control, have all reinforced the Israeli public's belief that the Palestinians are more interested in murdering Jews than in making peace with them.
Abbas's actions (and inaction) are in direct violation of the 1993 Oslo Accords "peace process" between Israel and the PLO.
In the past year, Abbas has failed to disarm or arrest hundreds of terrorists freely operating in areas of the West Bank under the control of the Palestinian Authority. Consequently, the terrorists stepped up their attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians.
Murdering Jews is a serious and dangerous breach of the "peace process." The Oslo Accords (Article XV) state that the Palestinians are supposed to "take all measures necessary in order to prevent acts of terrorism, crime and hostilities." Instead, Palestinian cities such as Nablus and Jenin, which are fully controlled by Abbas's security forces, have in the past year against become hubs for terrorism.
Several terror groups operating in these areas -- including those affiliated with Abbas's own Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and the Lions' Den -- have been carrying out almost daily attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians. The terror groups feel so safe under Abbas's rule that they often hold paramilitary rallies in the two cities, as well as refugee camps and villages in the West Bank, where Abbas's security services are supposed to enforce law and order to prevent terrorism and hostilities.
So far, Abbas has not ordered his security forces even to constrain the terrorists roaming the streets of Palestinian towns and cities. Either he lacks the will to do so or fears that he would be targeted by his own people as a traitor or "Zionist agent." As long as the terrorists do not pose a direct threat to the Palestinian Authority leadership, Abbas will not take any measure against them. If the terrorists target only Jews, Abbas seems happy to look the other way.
Abbas has repeatedly proven over the years that he orders his security forces to use force only when Palestinians criticize him for corruption or protest against the Palestinian Authority's repressive policies, especially the recent crackdown on political opponents, journalists and human rights activists.
On January 11, Abbas again showed that his top priority remains to suppress any form of opposition from home rather than to stop a terrorist from murdering Jews. The incident took place during a peaceful protest in Nablus by hundreds of Palestinians demanding an end to the Palestinian Authority's policy of detention-without-trial of Palestinian activists. Abbas's security officers dispersed the protesters with tear gas and stun grenades. The Palestinian Authority also physically attacked a number of journalists and threatened them not to report on the actions of the security officers.
Abbas could have used the same security forces to stop armed terrorists a few hundred meters away in the Old City of Nablus and the Balata refugee camp. On January 11, the terrorists carried out a number of shooting attacks against Israeli soldiers and military installations in the Nablus area. Abbas's security forces still have done nothing to detain the terrorists.
In the past year, Abbas has demonstrated to the Israeli public that the Palestinians are determined to pursue the war against Israel on two fronts: on the ground, through terrorism, and in the international arena, through the United Nations and the International Criminal Court, the International Court of Justice and other international forums.
Both the Palestinian terrorism and the diplomatic warfare constitute a violation of the commitments made by the Palestinians in the "peace process."
In a September 1993 letter to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Yasser Arafat stated that "all outstanding issues relating to permanent status will be resolved through negotiations," rather than unilateral actions.
According to Alan Baker, a former Israeli ambassador to Canada who participated in the negotiation and drafting of the Oslo Accords:
"By petitioning the UN, the International Criminal Court, and international organizations to recognize them and accept them as a full member state, and by their unification with the Hamas terror organization, the Palestinians have knowingly and deliberately bypassed their contractual obligations pursuant to the Oslo Accords in an attempt to prejudge the main negotiating issues outside the negotiation."
When Israelis see Abbas paying the families of terrorists who murder or wound Jews, why should it be a surprise that many Israelis vote for "hardline" candidates? And when Israelis see Abbas and his associates inciting violence against them or vilifying Israel and prosecuting its leaders as "war criminals" at international tribunals, why should anyone be astonished that many Israelis are going to vote for a government they hope will protect them?
Why would any Israeli trust Abbas when they see all the gunmen and terrorists running wild in the areas he controls? If the Palestinians want to regain the confidence of the Israeli public, they might start by demonstrating that they are serious about making peace with Israel. They could stop violating the agreements they signed and begin acting like peace partners, not war partners. They could cease their incessant unilateral measures and efforts to delegitimize Israel in the international arena.
Until all of that happens, disillusioned Israelis will continue to vote for those who have lost confidence in the Palestinians, as well as any hope that they might honor their commitments.
Bassam Tawil is a Muslim Arab based in the Middle East.