Abbas is too lily-livered to lead

Clearly, the Palestinian president hasn’t studied the political life of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who mistakenly believed appeasing a devil like Adolf Hitler could avert World War II.

Unlike his predecessor Yasser Arafat who, despite his faults, put his very life on the line for a just cause, under the slightest pressure, Abbas rolls over like a puppy. He’s made so many concessions to the US and Israel without any reward that he’s nothing left to offer other than total Palestinian subservience to the will of the occupying state. And signs indicate that’s exactly the direction he’s taking.

The Palestinian papers, leaked by Al Jazeera, that recorded years of negotiations between Israel and Palestinian negotiators, were astonishingly disappointing. They disclosed that Abbas was prepared to concede to Israel “the biggest Yerushaleyim (Jerusalem)” to include all Israeli colonies in and around East Jerusalem barring Har Homa. Moreover, regarding the right of Palestinian refugees to return, Abbas agreed with Israel’s proposal to take-in a token number of 10,000, selected by Israel and permitted to remain under “humanitarian conditions.” In other words, human fig leafs representing the aspirations of millions of Palestinian refugees worldwide, 4.3 million of which are registered with the United Nations as requiring humanitarian assistance. Israel confirmed that the Palestinian Papers were authentic. Abbas insisted parts had been faked. The latest shocking revelation straight from the horse’s mouth reinforces the Israeli position.

In an interview aired by Israel’s Channel 2, Abbas stressed that there would “never” be a “third armed intifada” on his watch. “We don’t want to use terror. We don’t want to use force. We don’t want to use weapons. We want to use diplomacy. We want to use politics. We want to use negotiations. We want to use peaceful resistance,” he said.

In truth, that policy is sensible because the Palestinians have learned from bitter experience that given the occupier’s military strength, violence is no route to victory. But did he really have to spell that out, thus throwing away one of few cards he has left? If he is consumed with Gandhi-esque illusions he’s barking up the wrong tree. The Mahatma’s insistence on nonviolent protest worked well against the British at a time when the empire was becoming an expensive burden and imperialist brutality was anathema to the conscience-ridden readership of British newspapers. But any Palestinian version of Gandhi’s salt march would result in participants turned into lifeless pillars of salt.

Worse, much worse, it appears that the Palestinian president is suffering from a Mother Teresa complex. During the same interview, Abbas merrily announced that he waived his right of return to the town of his birth Safed in Galilee from where the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict compelled his family to flee when Abbas was just 13-year-old. “I visited Safed before once,” he added. “But I want to see Safed. It is my right to see it, but not to live there.” If the Palestinian leader publicly relinquishes his claim to a home that was stolen and a town his parents and grandparents called home what message does that send to the hundreds of thousands of disenfranchised, stateless refugees confined to camps, comforted only by generational hopes and rusted keys to houses that no longer exist or are occupied by Jewish squatters?

His words were like milk and honey to Israel’s dovish President Shimon Peres, who characterized Abbas as a true and courageous partner for peace. A spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry said: “As Abbas is not an Israeli citizen he doesn’t have a right to live in Israel. We agree on that.” Uzi Landau of Yisrael Beiteinu that’s hooked up with Likud attacked Abbas for being “a serial trickster, an obsessive liar.”

Netanyahu was not impressed either. He dismissed Abbas’s announcement saying he has different messages for different audiences. “I watched President Abbas’ interview over the weekend. I have heard that he has already managed to go back on his remarks,” he commented before once again condemning the Palestinian leader for his efforts to upgrade the Palestinian Authority’s status in the UN.

Once again, Abbas has buried another one of his bargaining chips and has portrayed himself as compliant, weak and ineffectual in the process. Israelis will no doubt find his willingness to please his puppet masters in Tel Aviv and Washington amusing when Netanyahu and his cohort Avigdor Lieberman have no intention of working toward a Palestinian state of any description and hardly bother to pay lip-service to the concept nowadays.

Arafat must be squirming in his Ramallah mausoleum. He wasn’t perfect. But nobody can deny that he devoted every hour of his existence toward gaining his people’s freedom. Gamal Abdel Nasser who took his nation to war to defend Jordan from Israeli aggression and liberate Palestine, incurring a terrible cost, would be disgusted. “We feel that the soil of Palestine is the soil of Egypt, and of the whole Arab world. Why do we all mobilize? Because we feel that the land of Palestine is part of our land, and we are ready to sacrifice ourselves for it.”

However, that was a different era when Arab leaders were fearless and Arab pride meant something. Nasser’s dream of Arab nationalism was just that, a dream. In recent decades, the Palestinians have been virtually abandoned to their misery. Arab states have become watchers, expressing little except condolences as 1.5 million men, woman and children are imprisoned in Israel’s shooting range Gaza and Palestinian homes and lands in east Jerusalem and the West Bank are being stolen year-upon-year ensuring any future Palestinian state will be a toothless, demilitarized, non-contiguous, postage stamp entity without control over its borders, shoreline or airspace.

President Abbas cannot be blamed for taking a different tack, a more conciliatory path, than Arafat’s. He didn’t want to be dismissed by the White House as “irrelevant” as Arafat was toward the end of his life when he was viewed as a stubborn old warhorse, a dinosaur and a barrier to peace efforts. At the end, Arafat was confined to the bombed shell of his Ramallah headquarters where he slept in a small room furnished with a single bed and a wardrobe in which his iconic uniforms were hung. Nevertheless, even though he suffered from a mysterious and painful illness, his defiant spirit never dimmed.

When Palestinians in Gaza set fire to his effigy and the wrath of Palestinian nationalists of every political hue swirls around his head he should hang up his hat. As Palestinian editor of Al Quds Abdel Bari Atwan appeals in an editorial “Please don’t speak for us.” And that’s putting it politely.

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at

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