More than 30 dead in Israel as Palestinians armed with knives attack innocents. What’s responsible? A campaign of incitement, which slanderously accuses Jews of intruding on the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and murdering Arab children in cold blood.
And who is legitimizing this campaign? None other than Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, whom President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have long held up as a peacemaker. "I think nobody would dispute that whatever disagreements you may have with him, he has proven himself to be somebody who has committed to nonviolence and diplomatic efforts to resolve this issue," Obama told writer Jeffrey Goldberg in 2014.
Recent Stories in Columns
That’s a strange view of commitment. This is the same Abbas, remember, who rejected then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s absurdly generous 2008 peace offer. The same Abbas who resisted negotiations with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the 10-month settlement freeze in 2010, which Obama demanded explicitly on the grounds that it would give Abbas the cover he needed to begin talks. Abbas finally relented to Saudi pressure, and attended a few meetings with Netanyahu that September. But under no definition of what the word "negotiation" actually means were these meetings for real: The freeze was about to expire, the get togethers were perfunctory, and nothing of significance was discussed. The farce ended soon after.
It is a lie to say that Mahmoud Abbas is committed to a diplomatic resolution. Just as it was a lie when, the other day at Harvard, Secretary Kerry attributed the bloodshed to "a frustration that is growing" because of the "massive increase in settlements over the course of the last years." As Elliott Abrams points out, there has been an increase in the population of the settlements, but not in their size. As if the settlements have any connection to what’s happening in the first place: The terror gripping Israel is the result of a Palestinian leadership so adrift and corrupt, so aggrieved and conspiratorial, that it encourages the radicalization of its youth and promotes an atmosphere of hatred and murder.
David Horovitz of the Times of Israel recounts the history. Not only did Abbas reject Olmert and Obama. He insisted in 2013 that the Palestinian "right of return," which would irrevocably transform Israel into a bi-national state, be part of any deal. Declared in 2014 that Israel was committing "genocide" in Gaza. Announced in 2015 that the Palestinian Authority would no longer uphold previous agreements. Charged Israel, falsely, with infiltrating and violating Muslim sites. Encouraged Palestinians to lionize the knife-wielding assailants as martyrs, victims of Israeli "execution." Spread the myth that 13-year-old Ahmad Mansara, recovering in an Israeli hospital from wounds he incurred in a botched terrorist attack—in which he critically wounded a Jewish teen—had been killed by an Israeli vigilante.
Concludes Horovitz: "The fact is that Abbas has quite deliberately fueled the flames of this latest Al-Aqsa-centered terror wave."
And what has the United States done to stop him? Nothing. Not during this presidency. Obama’s focus has been laser-like when it comes to Israel’s missteps, Israel’s weaknesses, Israel’s moral code, and what he sees as Israel’s true interests. Abbas, on the other hand, is someone Obama has been content to puff up, placate, excuse, humor, ignore.
"I have to commend President Abbas," Obama said during a bilateral meeting at the White House last year. "He has been somebody who has consistently renounced violence, has consistently sought a diplomatic and peaceful solution that allows for two states, side by side, in peace and security."
In his interview with Goldberg, conducted around the same time, Obama added, "I believe that President Abbas is sincere about his willingness to recognize Israel and its right to exist, to recognize Israel’s legitimate security needs, to shun violence, to resolve these issues in a diplomatic fashion that meets the concerns of the people of Israel."
But at that White House meeting, according to reports, Abbas explicitly rejected three key elements of any agreement: recognition of Israel as a Jewish State; renunciation of the right of return; and commitment to "end of conflict" language that would foreclose future Palestinian demands. As he has done with so many dictators, theocrats, and goons, the president offered an open hand—and was rebuked with a closed fist.
This rebuke was not met with forceful rhetoric, countermeasures, or a shift in policy to strengthen Palestinian institutions, develop Palestinian civil society, broaden and liberalize the Palestinian leadership. It was met with silence. The White House just looked the other way.
"My concern about Obama is that he never asks anything about the Palestinians. He gives them a complete pass," says Ambassador Dennis Ross, a former Obama official whose new book Doomed to Succeed tells the story of the beleaguered U.S.-Israel alliance. "It makes it worse for the Palestinians. For the Palestinians, you have a political culture that is driven so much by this profound sense of victimhood and grievance—the idea that they should do anything towards the Israelis, they should make any accommodation towards the Israelis, is completely illegitimate."
Why the pass? Jeffrey Goldberg says it’s because the Palestinians "have less power." That’s no excuse. Another possibility: The president is occupied with Cuba, ISIS, Syria, Ukraine, and Iran. He doesn’t have the bandwidth to hold Mahmoud Abbas to the same standard as Benjamin Netanyahu.
But we know that’s not the case, either. The president has been more than happy to castigate Netanyahu all along. Can't he say a few tough things about Abbas?
Obama won’t hold the Palestinians accountable because that might jeopardize his policy of daylight between America and Israel. A policy that was intended to improve U.S. credibility in the Muslim world and thereby denuclearize Iran, disarm and remove Bashar al-Assad, and establish a peaceful Palestinian state. A policy that has instead destabilized the region, formalized the Russian-Iranian-Syrian axis, enriched and empowered the Shiite theocracy, rattled our allies, and done nothing to curtail Palestinian intransigence.
Even the carrot Obama offered Israel as part of the Iran deal—interdiction of Iranian weapons to Hezbollah—has been exposed as an illusion. Russia has a no-fly zone in Syria and is arming Syrian regulars and presumably Hezbollah, too. How else to explain Netanyahu's sudden visit to Moscow last month? Hezbollah with a nuclear umbrella was something the Iran deal was supposed to prevent. Now Hassan Nasrallah benefits from the Russian nuclear umbrella, in addition to the Iranian one that will be unfurled a decade hence. Great job Obama.
So here we are: Palestinians no closer to statehood, Israel terrorized, Jewish and Arab lives being lost, and an atmosphere so rife with revisionism and paranoia that the New York Times is questioning the history of Jews on the Temple Mount. All because President Obama forgot that daylight ends in darkness.