Watching Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas make his speech to the UN General Assembly, I suspect the same jolting thought passed through my head as it did for a lot of the viewers': "Isn't this guy meant to be the moderate?"
Coming so soon after the latest Hamas rocket-barrage against Israel, the almost physical need to hold onto that dead paradigm can still occasionally override most of the facts. On one side are the Palestinian rocket-launching squads about whom nothing apparently can be done. Then on the other side are the other Palestinians, led by moderates, who just want to sit down and negotiate if they could only find time out of their busy schedules.
Even those of us who know and follow the Palestinian Authority can find ourselves slipping into this narrative: These are the moderates and those are the extremists, and we have to choose between the two.
Except that then you get another golden opportunity to hear Mahmoud Abbas in full moderate flight mode, and you have to rethink it all over again.
When Abbas stood up to take the floor in front of the UN and the world last Thursday, he might have started with a concession. He might have started with a bid for peace or a reaching out to the Israelis. But no, he started once again, in time-honored fashion, with an attack on Israel. And the usual array of hilarious untruths and half-truths.
"Palestine comes today to the United Nations General Assembly…"
Not even a full sentence in and already the "Wrong" buzzer sounds. "Palestine" comes today? Which Palestine? Gaza? West Bank? "Palestine" is not a single entity. It is hopelessly divided. It makes the average boxing tournament look like a meeting of minds.
After all – and as he must surely know – Abbas himself has not even been to the Gaza since 2007. And not because the wicked Zionists have stopped him from doing so, but because his Palestinian brothers in Hamas have such a bad track record for shooting and hurling from high buildings most of Mr. Abbas's erstwhile Fatah colleagues in Gaza, as during the 2007 Hamas coup.
But, undeterred by such trivialities, Abbas continued:
"…at a time when it is still tending to its wounds and still burying its beloved martyrs."
The what? Martyrs? Oh well, perhaps it's just a stylistic thing…
"…of children, women and men who have fallen victim to the latest Israeli aggression, still searching for remnants of life amid the ruins of homes destroyed by Israeli bombs on the Gaza Strip, wiping out entire families, their men, women and children murdered along with their dreams, their hopes, their future and their longing to live an ordinary life and to live in freedom and peace."
Israeli aggression? Wiping out?
The question all of this begged for me, as I'm sure it did for plenty of others, was this: Does this sound like the opening number of somebody eager to engage in a peace process? Or the audition of a man who is hoping that he can take back extremism from the extremists?
Mahmoud Abbas spent his speech claiming that this was the last chance for the peace process. In reality, it was simply the last chance for Mahmoud Abbas to remain in charge. In recent weeks he has been phoning around the foreign ministries of Europe explaining that if they don't back him this time in the non-state statehood bid, then it is all over and all we have to deal with is Hamas.
This is, of course, the classic thug extortion trick. They come to your door and tell you that you have to hand over the money. Not because they are going to do anything so bad if you don't, but because their friend here is really, really mad, and they're only just managing to hold him back.
On Thursday the UN General Assembly, with only a few brave souls holding out, finally gave in to this man's gangsterism. Many of them did so in order – they thought – to avoid the rocket-firing terrorism of Hamas. So they ended up by backing the diplomatic terrorism of Mahmoud Abbas.
What he does with his new-found power we can already guess. He will use it – as he used his time on the UN stage – not to further the peace process, but to retard it, principally by demonizing the only negotiating partner that he, or any other Palestinian leader, will ever have.
After the UN vote there were fireworks in the West Bank. Indeed more fireworks than at any time in November since Hamas managed to land a couple of rockets in Jerusalem. Between those two events lies the true horror of the situation the world has just attempted to parcel Israel up into. The Palestinians have tried a one-two punch. The world has just fallen for it. Whether it now manages to force Israel to fall for it too, we shall have to see.