President Mahmoud Abbas recently gave a watershed speech in Ramallah, speaking before 300 Israeli students. He stated (in English) that he had no intention of flooding Israel with refugees and changing the character of the country. He said that, as an academic, he had studied the murder of the millions of Jews during the Holocaust and claimed he was not a Holocaust denier. He admitted that the Palestinian Authority engaged in anti-Israeli incitement but claimed that Israel also dealt in anti-Palestinian incitement. Finally, he told the assembled students that he recognized the State of Israel as an established fact and that he did not want to divide Jerusalem, but rather to see it administered jointly by Palestinians and Israelis.
Mahmoud Abbas spoke clearly and sincerely. He stated that he opposed the settlements, but also stressed that he did not seek to destroy Israel, and that all he wanted was to live in peace in a Palestinian state, side by side with the State of Israel. It was encouraging to hear the Palestinian president promising that the Palestinians would not again choose the path of violence and terrorism to achieve their national goals, even if the peace talks failed. His remarks also make it clear to the Palestinian people that their leadership had, if later rather than sooner, decided correctly to interpret Palestinian interests, instead of again sacrificing its human and material assets in the service of countries that wanted to exploit the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to achieve their own narrow objectives. The Palestinian president demonstrated political maturity and there is no doubt that he has taken a giant step towards peace.
As opposed to other Palestinian leaders, Mahmoud Abbas represents rational political thought. Anyone who assumed until recently that Palestine would be liberated by force with the direct military involvement and support of the Arab countries was sorely disappointed.
The scales have fallen from the eyes of those who favor jihad and hoped Allah would send his angels to kill the Jews. They have experienced both the blows dealt them by Israel and the empty promises of aid glibly given by the Arab states, and now have to deal with Islamic jihad movements in their own countries as well.
The ongoing mass slaughter of civilians in the Arab Spring countries does not ensure the Palestinians either aid or a solution to their problems.
There are still many Palestinians, however, who mistakenly believe the Europeans fully support them. They expect the European Union to exert pressure on Israel and impose boycotts that will force it to withdraw unconditionally from the West Bank, the Jordan Valley and Jerusalem. The Palestinian expectation that Israel will be subjected to the same kind of international sanctions and boycotts imposed on South Africa's apartheid regime is a pipe dream, and Mahmoud Abbas apparently no longer harbors much hope that it will come to pass.
Unfortunately, despite the positive changes in the Palestinian president's approach, the Israelis remain hesitant, and with good reason. It is unclear how long Mahmoud Abbas will remain in office; his presidency may easily be ended by a coup that will extend Hamas's power from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank. The Israeli leadership is also worried by the Islamist terrorism in Syria and Lebanon, and by a possible agreement that will leave the Palestinians in control of the Jordan Valley corridor. In such a case the mujahedin [warriors in the cause of Islam] of the Islamist terrorist organizations will be able to infiltrate through the Jordan Valley into Israeli territory, endanger Israel's security and menace its citizens. The Lebanese sector is also potentially dangerous, and only a few days ago Israel attacked a convoy of long-range missiles en route from Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon, and intercepted a ship packed with missiles and other weapons headed from Iran to Gaza -- reminders of Iran's military buildups and preparations for the next round.
Israel's confrontations with Hamas in the Gaza Strip continue. Persecuted by the Egyptian security forces, Hamas sends its operatives to instigate incidents and create chaos on the Israeli border in an attempt to circumvent the Egyptian siege. In the meantime, in Syria, Islamist terrorist movements such as Ahrar al-Sham, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Al-Qaeda and the Al-Nusra Front fight against both the Syrian army and each other. The Syrian border is also of concern to Israel, which worries that eventually the Islamist terrorist movements will turn their weapons against it.
It is reasonable to assume that the Israelis are currently asking themselves the following question: Did Mahmoud Abbas' speech reflect a genuine, comprehensive Palestinian willingness and ability to make painful concessions, to make peace and maintain long-term security with Israel on the ground, or was it an exercise in empty rhetoric? After the Jewish-Arab bloodbath of the past hundred years, Mahmoud Abbas should concentrate his efforts on winning Israel's trust. He is currently walking an existential tightrope: the Palestinian people expect an overall "return" to the territories their grandparents and great-grandparents abandoned almost 70 years ago, effectively establishing a Palestinian state on the territory and ruins of the State of Israel. At the same time, he understands that the Jews are aware that the "return" would mean Israel's physical destruction, which is not an option for them.
Israel's reactions have shown the Palestinians that they can no longer maneuver Israel with lies, promises, blackmail and extortion. Israel's leaders are not about to freely commit political or national suicide by agreeing to anything that would not fully answer Israel's security and peace needs -- the reason many Palestinians are actively planning a third intifada against Israel.
In his most recent statements, Mahmoud Abbas has tried to break through Israel's wall of distrust, but because of Palestinian political constraints he cannot recognize Israel as a Jewish state. The Israelis are fully aware that the motif of the "return" as a condition for the permanent status agreement continues raising its head in the media and is demanded by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Authority-administered territories, and in the refugee camps and cities of Arab countries. That being so, Israel continues to suspect that the Palestinians are being less than sincere and will never accept Israel as an independent country in the Middle East. Reading between the lines of Palestinian propaganda and incitement disseminated daily by the Qatari TV station Al-Jazeera, it is obvious to both the Israelis and the Americans that the Palestinians are still not ready for an agreement that will end the conflict and write finis to their unrealistic demands. It is also obvious that despite Mahmoud Abbas' soothing speeches, the dream of peace is still only a dream.
Unfortunately, whenever Mahmoud Abbas speaks he contradicts himself, increasing Israel's reservations regarding the Palestinian leadership. In various interviews Mahmoud Abbas has said that he personally has waived his own right of return to Safed, the city of his birth, but that he does not and cannot waive the right of return of the Palestinian people because it is an "individual right" and every Palestinian must decide for himself. For Israelis, who are used to democracy, the leadership is chosen to craft the national policy and represent the collective will of the people, and is expected to fulfill the conditions of agreements it signs.
Mahmoud Abbas' evasive declarations and verbal acrobatics signal a failure of leadership. They reveal the unfortunate fact that the Palestinians, who want to establish a state of their own, will continue to demand that the descendants of the Palestinian refugees of 1948 be housed not in their new state of Palestine, presumably created just for that, but in the neighboring State of Israel, which they will oppose and fight even after an agreement is signed.
The Palestinian demand for the "right of return" will remain without a solution; it is interpreted in Israel as a demographic threat to flood Israel with Arabs, with the intention of destroying it. There is no manipulation the Palestinians can invent that will convince Israel to accept and sign an agreement with that Palestinian condition. If Mahmoud Abbas cannot, in the name of the Palestinian people, waive the comprehensive "right of return" and instead leaves the main aspect of the conflict unresolved and unresolvable, the entire enterprise is doomed to failure.
Another critical issue is the continuation of Palestinian anti-Israeli incitement, which befouls the atmosphere and increases Israeli suspicions, blocking the path to the trust necessary on both sides if there is a genuine desire to achieve peace. The Israeli demand that the Palestinians stop their incitement is not a trifling matter. There is no validity whatsoever to Mahmoud Abbas' comparison between Palestinian and Israeli incitement. Even if anti-Palestinian incitement is spread by the extreme right wing in Israel, it is marginal, does not reflect the opinions of the overwhelming majority of Israelis and is not institutionalized or accepted as policy by the Israeli establishment. In the Palestinian Authority, however, anti-Israeli incitement is a matter of official policy directed by the Palestinian leadership. Mahmoud Abbas and his close associates in the government, the heads of the religious and educational establishments, and the Palestinian national media all methodically spread anti-Israeli propaganda and incite the Palestinians to violence and terrorism against Israel on a daily basis.
It is a sorry fact that Palestinian anti-Israeli incitement still calls for the destruction of the State of Israel, glorifies Palestinian suicide bombers who kill Jews -- calling them "martyrs" [shaheeds] and promoting them as role models for impressionable youths -- and idealizes the armed campaign to destroy Zionism and Israel. That is not the way to construct a dynamic for peace. In effect, the Palestinians are not preparing the younger generation for peace with Israel, but are brainwashing them with hatred and hostility and preparing them for continuing the conflict.
Every system within the Palestinian government praises and glorifies terrorist attacks; the imams in the mosques talk about the liberation of "all of Palestine, from the [Jordan] river to the [Mediterranean] sea"; government ministers and President Mahmoud Abbas idealize the shaheeds and praise the murders carried out by the Palestinian prisoners released from Israeli jails. Highly placed figures in the Palestinian Authority name town squares after suicide bombers who have killed Israeli civilians, while imams call for jihad against Israel and the murder of Jews.
While the English-speaking peace-mongers of the West are blissfully trapped in the Palestinians' web of doubletalk, every Arabic speaker knows that the Palestinian people are not being prepared for peace. We all understand Abbas's manipulations: talk about peace and prepare the Palestinians for the next war with Israel. Therefore, the demand of the Israelis, who know what messages Mahmoud Abbas sends to his Arabic-speaking constituents, for putting an end to the incitement is both understandable and reasonable.
Any leader who incites his public to acts of violence and terrorism and preaches hatred is not planning to create mutual trust and peace, not in this generation and not in the next or the one after that. Such a leader shows himself to be hypocritical schemer, and sows fear and suspicion.
In the meantime, the Europeans and Americans have adopted the poses of the three monkeys -- hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil -- even in the face of the transparency of the Palestinian plot, which will only lead both the Israelis and Palestinians to catastrophe down the road.