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March 18, 2014 11:12 pm

In White House Visit, PA’s Abbas Tells Obama Nothing About Compromise (VIDEO)

avatar by Joshua Levitt

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas shakes hands with U.S. President Barack Obama, on March 17, 2014. Photo: Screenshot.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas shakes hands with U.S. President Barack Obama, on March 17, 2014. Photo: Screenshot.

In Monday’s visit to the White House, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas stuck to his guns, at least in the translated statement he made at the start of the meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama, seeming to confirm expectations in the media that little progress would come from the meeting.

Obama opened with a measured introduction that he thought would be amenable to both the PA and Israel:

“I think everybody understands the outlines of what a peace deal would look like, involving a territorial compromise on both sides based on ’67 lines with mutually agreed upon swaps, that would ensure that Israel was secure but would also ensure that the Palestinians have a sovereign state in which they can achieve the aspirations that they’ve held for so long.”

Obama also said that he wanted “to point out that the Palestinian Authority has continued to try to build strong institutions in preparation for a day in which the Palestinians have their own state, and I will continue to emphasize the importance of rule of law, transparency, and effective reform so that not only do the Palestinians ultimately have a state on paper, but, more importantly, they have one that actually delivers on behalf of their people.”

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Abbas, on the other hand, speaking in Arabic that was then translated for Obama, referred to the PA’s goals, in his terms. He spoke of reaching “a lasting peace to the Arab-Israeli conflict,” notably not saying the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, or the Muslim-Jewish conflict, but the conflict where all of the Arab world is against Israel, what he confirmed at a meeting of the Arab League a week before Monday’s meeting at the White House.

Abbas then thanked Obama “for the economic and political support that the U.S. is extending to the Palestinian state so that it can stand on its own feet.” A Congressional report published in October put the U.S. support for the PA, so far, at $5 billion in grants since the 1990s and about $500 million annually in recent years.

Now to the negotiations:

“I would also like to affirm what you have said, that we are working for a solution that is based on international legitimacy and also the borders — the 1967 borders so that the Palestinians can have their own independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital and so that we can find a fair and lasting solution to the refugee problem.”

In other words, the 1967 borders, the Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem and a “fair and lasting solution to the refugee problem,” or not giving up their right of return, leaving open the question of what they’ve been discussing at the negotiating table for the past eight months?

As for what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called out as the primal issue, the PA’s inability to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, Abbas implied to Obama that earlier recognition of the state of Israel was enough.

“Since 1988 and into 1993, we have been extending our hands to our Israeli neighbors so that we can reach a fair and lasting peace to this problem,” Abbas said. “Since 1988, we have recognized international legitimacy resolutions and this was a very courageous step on the part of the Palestinian leadership.  And in 1993, we recognized the state of Israel.”

Fatah, the political party Abbas presides, calls for the destruction of Israel in its charter, and, although he, indeed, seems to be pointing to a “courageous step,” the PA has never recognized Israel’s right to exist as the Jewish state.

Along all the points that Netanyahu’s government has been pushing in the talks for eight months — borders, capital, refugees, existence — Abbas has actually not moved at all.

Sadly, the one fact that he did point to Obama to remind Netanyahu was about the convicts he’s asked to be released from jail.

“Mr. President, we have an agreement with Israel, that was brokered by Mr. Kerry concerning the release of the fourth batch of prisoners and we are hopeful that the fourth batch will be released by the 29th of March because this will give a very solid impression about the seriousness of these efforts to achieve peace.”

In expectation of the meeting, the Washington Post‘s Jackson Diehl on Sunday night called out the PA leader for this performance, of not planning to negotiate any of the points on the table. His goal is to take back the 104 prisoners, offered for not bringing the PA case unilaterally to the UN or other international institutions, which is now the PA’s fallback position for a White House failure to reach a peace deal.

Indeed, on Monday, Nabil Sha’ath, a member of the PA’s negotiating team, implied in an Israeli Radio broadcast that the prisoners-for-UN deal was the core of PA thinking on the talks, not actually reaching a peace agreement with Israel.

Diehl wrote, in the piece headlined ‘Obama’s Middle East Fallacy’, that “Abbas expects to sit back if the talks fail, submit petitions to the United Nations and watch the anti-Israel boycotts mushroom, while paying no price of his own. Perhaps Obama will disabuse him of that notion at their meeting Monday. If not, another ‘peace process’ breakdown is surely coming.”

Diehl’s article led a morning note on Monday from advocacy group The Israel Project about “Palestinian intransigence” which provided “an overview of some recent diplomacy,” which TIP analyst Omri Ceren said was “straightforward: the Israelis seem prepared to accept a range of U.S. bridging proposals while Abbas keeps saying ‘no.'”

Netanyahu seems ready to make concessions “even at the risk of losing his right-wing governing coalition,” Diehl noted.

Diehl also had Abbas saying “no” — to U.S. bridging proposals on Jerusalem (the Kerry framework reportedly has the parties sharing East Jerusalem, Abbas is demanding all of it), on refugees (the Kerry framework has the Palestinians formally giving up the so-called “right of return,” Abbas gave a speech on March 6th enshrining it as a personal right), and on security arrangements along the border with Jordan (Israel wants a medium-term security presence there to prevent terrorist infiltration; the Americans and Jordanians reportedly agree; Abbas has brushed off the proposals.)

The answer is “simple,” Diehl said, quoting the Israeli-Arab journalist Khaled Abu Toameh, who wrote, “Abbas believes he can say no to Obama because the U.S. administration will not take any retaliatory measures against the Palestinian Authority.”

While the U.S. president may not retaliate, Congressman Ed Royce, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which plays a large role in approving the financing of aid to the PA has tried to draw a red line.

“The PA’s state-sanctioned media and educational systems systematically deny the existence of a Jewish state, arguing that Israel’s existence is a direct threat to Palestinians; even asserting that the destruction of Israel is justified,” Royce wrote last month in an Op-Ed in The Algemeiner. The Op-Ed was published as Royce pushed forward the Palestinian Peace Promotion and Anti-Incitement Act, which requires certification that the PA is no longer encouraging incitement against the United States or Israel and is engaged in peace preparation activities before the PA can receive economic assistance.

“After all, the prospect of a real, lasting peace can only be built on the foundation of a culture of tolerance — one that renders such rhetoric politically unacceptable,” Royce said.

Indeed, the equating of Zionism with Nazism in the PA media has become so pervasive that for many Palestinian Arabs a deal with Netanyahu’s Israel would be as unthinkable as with Hitler’s Germany.

In “honor” of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, in January, the official PA newspaper Al-Hayat Al-Jadida wrote, “Instead of Netanyahu disassociating himself from any act that would remind him of Hitler’s racism, he imitates it and wants to replicate it against the people of Palestine, its inhabitants and nation and even against the citizens of the State of Israel themselves!” according to Palestinian Media Watch.

The dark context for this is that Abbas, himself, is among the loudest firebrands of that hatred, and has been for the past 30 years since writing his doctoral dissertation at Moscow’s Oriental College on the very subject of Nazism.

Abbas published a book in 1983 based on that thesis, which, according to Dr. Rafael Medoff, director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, in Washington, D.C., argued that less than one million Jews were killed by Nazis, not the six million Jews believe to have perished. And that those Jews were killed as the victims of a secret partnership between the Nazis and David Ben-Gurion and other Zionist leaders in order to have a stronger basis for demanding a state.

“Since Zionism was not a fighting partner, it had no escape but to offer up human beings, under any name, to raise the number of victims, which they could then boast of at the moment of accounting,” Abbas wrote. “Having more victims meant greater rights and stronger privilege to join the negotiation table for dividing the spoils of war once it was over.”

In another book he published, ‘Zionism: Beginning and End,’ in 1977, Abbas spelled out a strategy that sought to split Israeli society and co-opt those left-wing elements that felt unattached to Israeli leadership, to become his supporters and weaken Israel.

His book is still being referred to today, including in the 56-page strategy document published by the PLO at end-2012, according to blogger Elder of Ziyon.

One of the points Abbas mentions is “to develop a strategy to work with Israeli society, particularly with the forces that supported the principle of two states on the 1967 borders,” as a way to split Israeli opinion between hardliners and those willing to trade anything for peace.

Israeli journalist Lital Shemesh, who participated in a ‘Dialogue for Peace Project’ last year, also went to the actual words of the peace partners, and was dismayed to find Abbas’s strategy, to divide, to de-legitimize, and then to conquer.

In Israel’s Walla daily, Shemesh wrote of her experience last year, in an article that was flagged by Elder of Ziyon:

“The Palestinians spoke of roadblocks and the IDF soldiers in the territories, while the Israeli side spoke of constant fear, murderous terrorist attacks, and rockets from Gaza.”

“The Israeli side, which included representatives from right and left, tried to understand the Palestinians’ vision of the end of the strife- ‘Let’s talk business,'” Shemesh said. “The Israelis delved to understand how we can end the age-old, painful conflict? What red lines are they willing to be flexible on? What resolution will satisfy their aspirations? Where do they envision the future borders of the Palestinian State which they so crave?”

“We were shocked to discover that not a single one of them spoke of a Palestinian State, or to be more precise, of a two-state solution.”

“They spoke of one state – their state,” she wrote. “They spoke of ruling Jaffa, Tel Aviv, Akko, Haifa, and the pain of the Nakba [lit. the tragedy – the establishment of the State of Israel]. There was no future for them. Only the past. ‘There is no legitimacy for Jews to live next to us’ – this was their main message. ‘First, let them pay for what they perpetrated.'”

“Israelis from the full gamut of political parties participated in the seminar: Likud, Labor, Kadima, Meretz, and Hadash. All of them reached the understanding that the beautiful scenarios of Israeli-Palestinian peace that they had formulated for themselves simply don’t correspond with reality,” she said.

“It’s just that most Israelis don’t have the opportunity to sit and really converse with Palestinians, to hear what they really think.”

“Our feed of information comes from [Mahmoud Abbas] Abu Mazen’s declarations to the international press, which he consistently contradicts when he is interviewed by Al Jazeera, where he paints a completely different picture.”

“I arrived at the seminar with high hopes, and I return home with difficult feelings and despair,” she said.

“Something about the narrative of the two sides is different from the core. How can we return to the negotiating table when the Israeli side speaks of two states and the Palestinian side speaks of liberating Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea?”

Watch footage of Monday’s press conference:

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