Israel Pulse

Abu Mazen Needs A Partner for Peace

Article Summary
Israel has made a mistake by not engaging Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, writes Shlomi Eldar.

Israel won't find a partner as congenial for negotiations as Abu Mazen, who halted the second Intifada in the West Bank. The problem is that the public is not willing to pay the price of peace.

Palestininan Authority Chairman Abu Mazen is going ahead with his bid to the United Nations. After he failed last year in his attempt to declare an independent Palestinian state, he goes for the “lite version” — non-member status — the status of a country that is not a member of the United Nations. And he's doing this on Nov. 29, to boot, the date of the historic United Nations vote on the Palestine Partition Plan in 1947.

He knew exactly what this date symbolizes for the Israelis. The 29th of November is ours [Israelis]. But some “smart-aleck,” some confidential advisor, suggested to him to fine-tune our history, and create an alternative Palestinian history. Despite our anger at him, does Abu Mazen have a choice? What haven't we said about him — that he is weak, that he does not represent the West Bank, not to mention the Gaza Strip's Iranian Hamaston. "He barely represents himself," Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman belittled him in front of consuls and ambassadors.

But read my lips: We will never find another partner for future negotiations as congenial as Abu Mazen. The "downy chick," as former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon nicknamed him disparagingly, was daring enough to stand up to the "dog from Mukata" (Ariel Sharon's nickname for former Palestinian Chairman Yasser Arafat) and tell him that the armed Intifada was erroneous and dangerous. No one else but Mazen dared say this to Arafat's face — no one from Arafat's circle or from his supporters. This "non-partner" acted fearlessly to stop the gunmen from all of the organizations — Fatah, Hamas, Jihad, you name it — and try to open a new page with the Israelis. Abu Mazen halted the second intifada in the West Bank and changed the Palestinian discourse that backed suicide terrorist acts in Israel.

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But his central problem is that Abu Mazen was, and remains, naïve. In his naïveté, he thought that his brave actions would score him brownie-points among the Israelis; that the actions he would take, would assist him in reciprocal trust-building measures that would lead the Israelis to enter into negotiations with him; that he would succeed in restoring trust between Israelis and Palestinians as a condition for negotiations. But Abu Mazen didn't understand that you never enter into a dialogue from a position of weakness, and without very powerful cards in your deck. He did not understand that despite his long-standing experience as a wrestler, the Israeli side would never sit down at the [negotiating] table out of free will — until they absolutely had to.

In an Israeli society that has seen Qassam and Grad rockets and Fajrs missiles and who knows what else, no sane prime minister would dare to evacuate settlements, search for a political settlement involving the partition of Jerusalem, or discuss the issue of the refugees. Abu Mazen can shout until tomorrow that he has no desire to return to the Israeli northern city of Zefat or the 1948 armistice lines. Israeli society does not believe in negotiations, is not interested in it and does not have a drop of faith in the Arabs in general, and the Palestinians — in specific. Jewish-Arab relations have never reached the nadir it has plunged to now.

The day before yesterday [Nov. 26] I met with youths from one of the "well-established" cities in the center of the country, and all of them had only one thing to say: We have to hit the Arabs hard, never mind if they are from Gaza or the West Bank. Israeli Arabs were also objects of heaps of curses. In the current public atmosphere, even if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman should wake up one morning with a brainstorm, full of admiration at the intentions or abilities of the "chick in the Mukata" — they would not have a mandate from the Israeli public. The public does not want peace at this time, and is certainly unwilling to pay the price of peace.

Thus we remain with Abu Mazen, whose bid to the United Nations may strengthen him for a moment, and maybe weaken him forever and bring about the collapse of the entire Palestinian Authority. While Israel knows exactly whom it faces in Gaza, no chick will be found any longer in Ramallah, with feathers or without, waiting patiently to be a whipping boy.

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Found in: un, sharon, settlements, peace, palestinian authority, palestinian, pa, israel, hamas

Shlomi Eldar is a columnist for Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse. For the past two decades, he has covered the Palestinian Authority and especially the Gaza Strip for Israel’s Channels 1 and 10, reporting on the emergence of Hamas. In 2007, he was awarded the Sokolov Prize, Israel’s most important media award, for this work.

Eldar has published two books: "Eyeless in Gaza" (2005), which anticipated the Hamas victory in the subsequent Palestinian elections, and "Getting to Know Hamas" (2012), which won the Yitzhak Sadeh Prize for Military Literature. He was awarded the Ophir Prize (Israeli Oscar) twice for his documentary films: "Precious Life" (2010) and "Foreign Land" (2018). "Precious Life" was also shortlisted for an Oscar and was broadcast on HBO. He has a master's degree in Middle East studies from the Hebrew University. On Twitter: @shlomieldar

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