What’s Behind Abbas’ New Rhetoric?

January 14, 2013 12:54 am 0 comments

PA Chairman Abbas after his return from the United Nations status upgrade bid. Photo: Screenshot.

Mahmoud Abbas delivered a speech on Jan. 4, on the anniversary of the founding of Fatah, that may have marked a turning point in the relations between the Palestinian Authority president and the State of Israel. Using extremist rhetoric that he has not adopted before, Abbas spoke about the need of the Palestinians “to renew an oath to the heroic martyrs and to walk in their path.”

In his list of Palestinian “martyrs” are not only recent leaders of Hamas, like Sheikh Ahmad Yassin and of the pro-Iranian Islamic Jihad, like Fathi Shkaki, but also figures from the 1930s, like Izzedine al-Qassam, and especially the notorious Jerusalem mufti, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, who openly collaborated with the Nazis during World War II.

What happened to Mahmoud Abbas? Hasn’t he been regarded by Israeli leaders for the last twenty years as a moderate who was interested in reaching a peace agreement? What is important is not the vapid debate over whether Abbas can still be regarded as a partner for peacemaking, but rather understanding the hard fact that conditions have changed influencing the declared intentions of leaders.

What is essential to internalize is that the political environment in 2013 no longer resembles what the Middle East looked like when Israel began talking to the Palestinians in 1993.

There were three very specific geostrategic conditions that prevailed when the political process of the last two decades was originally launched in 1991. These are now undergoing dramatic changes.

First, the Soviet Union was collapsing leaving the U.S. the sole superpower dominating the Middle East. With the U.S. armed forces deployed across the region after the American victory in the first Gulf War, the supremacy of American power was not theoretical but very real.

Second, with the defeat of Saddam Hussein, the most powerful member of what had been known as the “Rejectionist Front” was no longer a significant factor in the Middle Eastern balance of power. The pro-American Arab pragmatists were the predominant regional force.

And third, Iran, which had not yet recovered from its eight-year long war against Iraq in the previous decade, was not in any position to exploit the collapse of the 40-division strong Iraqi Army and assert itself as the new hegemonic power.

These three conditions set the stage for the convening of the Madrid Peace Conference in 1991 and later for the signing of the Oslo Agreements in 1993.

Yet, in 2013, that unique international constellation plainly no longer exists. The oil-rich Arab states, especially in the Persian Gulf, were concerned that the American withdrawal from Iraq at the end of 2011, marked a new period in which the U.S. would have far less to do militarily with the region and could no longer be depended upon to assure their security.

Qatar effectively jumped from the ship of American protection and made up with Tehran already in 2007, when the Bush administration published its National Intelligence Estimate on Iran. This move was interpreted as meaning that Washington was not going to dedicate military resources to resolve the problem of the Iranian march to nuclear weapons.

Moreover, with the uprisings in the Arab world since 2011, a new rejectionist front has come to power through Islamist parties that are now ruling from Tunisia to Egypt. Hamas, which already ousted the Palestinian Authority in the Gaza Strip in 2007, serves as a Palestinian affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood and hence has a built-in advantage over Abbas, given the new regional map that was emerging.

Abbas, who in the past looked to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak as his key ally, now had to contend with a Muslim Brotherhood government in Cairo, which worked in favor of his Islamist rival, Hamas. In Middle Eastern capitals, it became widely believed that this shift came about with Washington’s approval. This was a huge overstatement, but nonetheless it was a shared perception across the region.

Finally, despite the losses it faces in Syria (including Lebanon), Iran has been demonstrating an enhanced ability to project its influence with weapons, training, and in some cases, special forces, by inserting itself into multiple Middle Eastern conflicts, from Iraq to Yemen and from Sudan to the Gaza Strip. Its activism is likely to only increase, should it cross the nuclear threshold.

Israel does not have to reach the conclusion that it has no diplomatic options with the Palestinians and that an impasse is inevitable. But to proceed with any initiative in the future it needs to make several important adjustments in its approach. First, the next Israeli government must accept that given what is going on in the Middle East, it is completely unrealistic to propose negotiations to reach a full-blown final status agreement with the Palestinians.

Second, given the regional dangers that are on the horizon, any political arrangement in the future must have a much stronger security component than what was proposed in the past. It is unfortunate that in the internal political debate in Israel, politicians often take out of the file cabinet old diplomatic ideas that did not work, without reconsidering whether they are still applicable, if they ever were. More than ever, Israel needs to preserve the ability to defend itself, by itself, no matter how the declared intentions of its neighbors change.

This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Music Personalities Recycling His Roots

    Recycling His Roots

    JNS.org – Having started his career playing on his family’s pots and pans, Jewish musician Billy Jonas has maintained this homemade performance ethic while spreading his messages of simple living and environmentalism to a shared home throughout the world. After beginning in the kitchen, Jonas soon moved to the music room, where he picked up the piano, guitar, and trombone. These days, the multi-talented multi-instrumentalist plays on with pretty much anything he can find, including cans, bottles buckets, and other recycled-object [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Personalities Jewish Renewal Movement Founder’s Insights Form a New Guide for Senior Living

    Jewish Renewal Movement Founder’s Insights Form a New Guide for Senior Living

    JNS.org – Sara Davidson’s The December Project is a new book that should be read by all senior citizens, and by those who hope to live a long life, for it raises a question that most of us have not been taught how to answer: What should we do in that final stage of our lives? Many of us continue working past the traditional retirement age of 65, not because we need the money and not because we find the [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish History Why the Holocaust Occurred in Germany, and Why So Few Resisted (REVIEW)

    Why the Holocaust Occurred in Germany, and Why So Few Resisted (REVIEW)

    It’s hard to make a new contribution to the field of Holocaust studies,  but German historian Götz Aly accomplishes just that in Why the Germans, Why the Jews? His premise is that the origins of the Holocaust were rooted in the specific anti-Semitism found in Germany in the decades and centuries before World War II. Aly (who is not Jewish) seeks to prove his theory by studying only pre-Holocaust history, and tracing how the German people’s envy and hatred of [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Looking at Anti-Israel Celebrities and Their Brands

    Looking at Anti-Israel Celebrities and Their Brands

    JNS.org – During the current conflict in Gaza a number of celebrities have voiced their opinions in support of either the Israeli or Palestinian positions. But others—be it during Operation Protective Edge or at other times—have gone further than simply supporting the Palestinians by actively supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, making false accusations about the Jewish state, ignoring Israel’s position on the conflict, or justifying the actions of the terrorist group Hamas. Many of these [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Sports Israeli UFC Fighter Returns to Jewish State to Rejoin IDF

    Israeli UFC Fighter Returns to Jewish State to Rejoin IDF

    JNS.org – Days after winning his Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) featherweight bout against Steven Siler on July 26, Israeli-born mixed martial arts competitor Noad Lahat boarded a plane for his native country, choosing to temporarily exit UFC’s octagonal cage to rejoin the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) as a paratrooper for its operation against Hamas in Gaza. Except he didn’t actually consider it a choice. “When [our] home is in danger, there is no other way for us [but to serve [...]

    Read more →
  • Education Why We Should Invest in Jewish Children

    Why We Should Invest in Jewish Children

    JNS.org – My wife Suzy and I will never forget our wedding day. It was not just the uplifting ceremony and beautiful party that left an indelible mark. Some life-altering advice that we received from one of our guests informed and shaped our lives from that day forward. My high school teacher, Rabbi Moshe Yagid, pulled us aside just before the chuppah and challenged us to choose one mitzvah that would be the foundation of our marriage and our lives. He explained [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports LeBron James’ New Coach Shaped by Summer on Kibbutz and Jewish ‘Life Lessons’

    LeBron James’ New Coach Shaped by Summer on Kibbutz and Jewish ‘Life Lessons’

    JNS.org – Influenced by his Jewish upbringing and a summer on a kibbutz, basketball coach David Blatt is embarking on his highest-profile challenge yet: coaching LeBron James, the four-time National Basketball Association (NBA) Most Valuable Player who has made waves for returning to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. After guiding Israel’s storied Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball franchise to its 51st Israeli league championship and 6th Euroleague title this past season, Blatt landed the Cavaliers head-coaching job in June. Just weeks later, [...]

    Read more →
  • Food Jewish Identity Young Syrian Jewish Restauranteur Continues a Family Legacy

    Young Syrian Jewish Restauranteur Continues a Family Legacy

    JNS.org – At the turn of the century, a young Jewish immigrant arrived in New York. So begins the history of many American Jewish families. It is 27-year-old Albert Allaham’s story, too, with a few unusual twists. Albert’s “century” is the 21st—he arrived almost 100 years after the massive waves of European Jewish immigration. Rather than coming from a small town along the Danube river, his shtetl was Damascus. His first American business was not a pushcart on the Lower East [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.