What Abbas Must Do for Peace
As long as Israel has the US on its side, its government knows it can do no wrong. It plays games with Middle East peace by provoking extremism in the Arab world with excessive policies that fuel anti- Israel sentiment more than they protect Israeli citizens.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu may not be the poster-child of moderation, but he is smart enough to recognize that if Israel loses the ball in the US court of public opinion, he will lose the game completely. So he swallowed his pride and again reached out to President Barack Obama, after the Obama administration slammed him harder than any Israeli government.
But Israel made it easy for Obama. Netanyahu’s irrational refusal to stop the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and in east Jerusalem as a means of returning to peace talks with the Palestinians has put Israel in a strange place in American public opinion, which increasingly recognizes the settlements as obstacles to peace.
Then, there was Israel’s playing right into the hands of the extremists by taking the bait and taking over the flotilla of boats seeking to break its blockade of the Gaza Strip. Although Israel has refused to release a complete list of what the blockade prevented from entering the Gaza Strip – insisting the banned items are intended to prevent terrorism – it’s since been impossible to keep the truth from coming out.
The fact is the Israelis not only have prevented weapons from entering the Gaza Strip, they also have prevented many food items, toys for children, most medicine – allowing some to trickle in at an unreasonable pace – and a long list of items that include other things that have less to do with preventing terrorism and more to do with efforts to “punish” the Palestinians.
I opposed the flotilla strategy to break the blockade because I believe it empowers Hamas and its supporters.
Palestinian national policy should not be defined by activists, including some who openly oppose peace based on two-states; it should be left to the legitimate Palestinian Authority government in Ramallah.
But the legitimate PA government has been ineffective and indecisive, driven more by what the emotion-driven Palestinian public feels rather than by policies and strategies reflecting leadership.
IF YOU do not lead the public, you leave the public to be led by fanatics and extremists who tug at emotions.
Irrational conduct always looks good through the blinded rage of an emotional person. Courageous leadership means doing the right thing and knowing that such leadership will bring the majority of the Palestinian public back from the irrational precipice to one of reason.
They just need a courageous leader. And so far, one has not stepped up to the plate.
That dynamic makes it easy for Netanyahu’s government and the Palestinian activists to avoid peace, although Israel has the advantage as it is the only one that recognizes that the ball game is not in the UN but in the US.
It doesn’t matter what Belgium or Turkey believe. It only matters what the Americans think. They not only hold the key to the future in the Middle East, but they also control the money and their military is actively engaged in several Arab world countries.
What Americans believe will decide whether Israel can continue to sidestep peace and expand settlements in the West Bank while rejecting demands for peace based on the return to the 1949 armistice line, called the Green Line. So what’s a moderate to do? First, the Abbas government should get its act together.
It needs to recognize that it is trailing the Israelis when it comes to defining effective public policy.
Abbas needs to engage the American public directly. He needs to define his core message, which is simple: the Palestinian Authority supports the creation of two states, a land-for-land swap, the sharing of east Jerusalem and wants Israel to step up to the plate and recognize its role in the Palestinian refugee tragedy.
Abbas should hire a high powered public relations firm and stop pandering to the fanatics in the Arab world through the Arabic language media – a pandering that often undermines Palestinian rights because of contradictory pronouncements that confuse rather than enlighten public opinion, including in Israel.
And, more importantly, Abbas should recognize that the battle is not in the Gaza Strip but in the mind-set of the American public, where the future of Palestine, twostates and Middle East peace will be decided.
The problem with Abbas is most of what he does is conveyed to the world through the Arabic-language media, which has little or no impact on the American public. They’re not reading the Arabic media for positive news and only scour through the Arab world media to find evidence of terrorism and anti-American hatred.
And there is a lot of that to be found.
While Netanyahu is bringing his message directly to Obama, Abbas needs to bring his message directly to the American people. He should do a 10-city tour of the US and argue directly what many do not want the American public to hear.
As far as most Americans are concerned, Hamas and its extremist activists represent the face of the Palestinian people and Abbas is negligible.
That can easily change. For the first time in Palestinian history, the Palestinians have a friend in the White House. He may only be there a few years. Now is the time for Abbas to change his strategy and stop playing second fiddle to Hamas and to Israel.
Abbas needs to make the American public his priority.
If he can win over their hearts and minds, Palestine can become a sovereign state.