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July 14, 2017 10:01 am

Peace Is Light-Years Away

avatar by Ruthie Blum

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US President Donald Trump and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem, May 23. Photo: Shealah Craighead / White House.

If the leaders of the Palestinian Authority (PA) had invested as much time, energy and ‎other people’s money in building a flourishing society as they do in the pursuit of ‎death and destruction, there would be no need for outside efforts to broker ‎peace between them and their Israeli counterparts. It takes only about 30 minutes ‎to drive from the Muqataa compound in Ramallah to the Prime Minister’s Office in ‎Jerusalem. Yet it is still easier for dignitaries from the United States and Europe to ‎spend hours on flights to Tel Aviv for the purpose of talking about a two-state ‎solution than it is for PA President Mahmoud Abbas to budge in any direction ‎other than backwards. ‎

Take this week, for instance, which began with the Palestinians’ refusal to host ‎US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman — whom US President Donald Trump ‎has included in his Mideast peacemaking team, along with advisers Jason ‎Greenblatt and Jared Kushner — in Ramallah. Friedman is too pro-Israel, as far as ‎Abbas is concerned. As a result, the meeting between American and Palestinian ‎officials on Tuesday took place at the King David Hotel in west Jerusalem. ‎

On Thursday, Greenblatt joined fellow envoys of the Middle East Quartet — the ‎US (which he represents), the European Union, the United Nations and Russia — ‎in Jerusalem “to discuss current efforts to advance Middle East peace, as well as ‎the deteriorating situation in Gaza.”‎

Also on Thursday, Greenblatt announced that Israel had agreed to sell the PA 1.2 ‎billion cubic feet of water. This, he said, in addition to an electricity deal reached ‎between Israel and the PA on Monday, will improve the Palestinians’ standard of ‎living.‎

Meanwhile, in Washington, DC on Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations ‎Committee conducted a hearing on the proposed Taylor Force Act, named after ‎the former US Army officer who, while on a trip to Israel in March 2016, was ‎stabbed to death by a knife-wielding Palestinian on a rampage in Tel Aviv. The bill, ‎cosponsored by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Dan Coats (R-‎Ind.) and Roy Blunt (R-Miss.), aims to halt American aid to the PA until it ‎stops paying salaries and stipends to imprisoned terrorists and the families of ‎those “martyred” while murdering Israelis. ‎

Testifying before the committee on behalf of the bill, Senior Fellow for Middle ‎Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations Elliott Abrams — who served as ‎deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser in the ‎George W. Bush administration — railed against the “Palestinian practice of ‎making payments to individuals convicted of acts of terror, and their families or ‎survivors, in accordance with the severity of their acts and the length of their ‎sentences.” The “predictable effect of this practice,” he said, “is to reward and ‎incentivize acts of terror.”‎

Pointing to the billions of dollars that the US has poured into the PA since its ‎establishment in the 1990s, Abrams said, “As long as the Palestinian government ‎is in effect rewarding terror, we need to be sure we make our objections — our ‎condemnation — known, and that cannot be merely in words. Our assistance ‎program must reflect our feeling of repugnance.” He then proposed a revision to ‎the bill that would enable the US to continue funding hospitals and other ‎projects that benefit the Palestinian people, while preventing the money from ‎lining the pockets of corrupt bureaucrats.‎

Whether this carrot-and-stick approach to the PA was purposeful or inadvertent ‎is unclear. What is certain, however, is that the PA president is not turning over a ‎new leaf. Earlier this month, as Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) reported, Abbas ‎was quoted on Fatah’s official Facebook page as proclaiming: “Even if I have to ‎leave my position, I will not compromise on the salary of a martyr or a prisoner, ‎as I am the president of the entire Palestinian people, including the prisoners, the ‎martyrs, the injured, the expelled and the uprooted.”‎

This sentiment was echoed recently by PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah. ‎Hamdallah — who launched the first-ever Palestinian-owned power substation in ‎Jenin with Israeli National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Resources Minister ‎Yuval Steinitz on Monday, and signed the electricity deal touted by Greenblatt — ‎vowed last month to continue rewarding terrorists.‎

On June 16, according to PMW, the official PA newspaper quoted Hamdallah ‎announcing: “On behalf of…Abbas and our Palestinian people, I salute all of the ‎martyrs’ families…[and] emphasize to them that their rights are protected…We ‎remember the sacrifices and struggle of the pure martyrs, guardians of the land ‎and identity, who have turned our people’s cause into a historical epic of struggle ‎and resolve.”‎

Hamdallah’s reassurance came on the heels of US Secretary of State Rex ‎Tillerson’s claim that the PA’s “intent is to cease the payments to the families of ‎those who have committed murder or violence against others.” Ironically, both ‎Israeli and Palestinian officials were incensed by the statement, and Tillerson was ‎forced to modify it. Washington and Ramallah — he said the following day — are ‎engaged in an “active discussion” on the matter.‎

So far, however, all Abbas has done is call the shots on the venue of a meeting ‎between his honchos and Trump’s team, agree to water and electricity deals that ‎benefit the PA and give the White House cause for false optimism. Undoubtedly, ‎he has already figured out how to get around the Taylor Force Act, if and when it ‎passes. A revised, bipartisan version of the bill, in particular — geared toward ‎guaranteeing that ordinary Palestinians are not robbed of humanitarian services ‎as a result of their leaders’ violations — will provide him with sufficient loopholes ‎to keep his “martyrs” in clover.‎

Ramallah may be a mere 10 miles from Jerusalem, but it — ‎like peace — is light-years away.‎

Ruthie Blum is an editor at the Gatestone Institute

This piece was originally published in Israel Hayom.

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  • Sweet

    This article is on point. For years the Palestinian leadership has been indoctrinating its population to hate and fight and destroy Israel. Keeping their population in despair keeps up the level of hate. If it were successful in reversing this course immediately and show Israel in a favorable light to their people on a long term course, it will take at least three generations in cleansing the hate for Israel flowing in their veins and additionally, it will take the lives of leaders who will propose reverting the course. Remember, the objective of “From the river to the sea” ending Israel as we know it is nothing short of an illusion of self destructive immature hopefuls. What a pity!

  • Paul

    Peace MAY be achieved – but not quite in the way we all all trying to achieve it.
    The Taylor act is a perfect example of the real problem – no external pressure is going to make the Palestinian authority stop paying what they consider their martyrs – the real problem is that they really DO consider them martyrs, while we consider them terrorists. We consider them terrorists because they kill innocent non-combatants and that goes against our greatest values – justice, and the sanctity of human life. They consider them martyrs because they struck at their enemy and brought them PRIDE – which is THEIR highest value – they have little respect for justice or human life, as evidenced by a father slitting the throat of his eight year old daughter because she was raped. It is wrong to simply view this as EVIL – they are acting according to what they believe is correct.
    We cannot achieve peace by trying to get them to accept our values and judgement. We CAN achieve peace if we understand what they really want and need (not what WE think they want and need).
    The one state solution is obviously a terrible idea, so everyone therefore opts for the 2-state solution. But THAT solution cannot bring an end to the conflict either. The Palestinians do not really NEED an independent Palestinian state in the territories -what they really hope to achieve by this independence is, to have freedom from Israeli control under a decent leader, with their own army and a decent life. They will gain any of that from an independent Palestinian state put up on the west Bank – they will have a miserable, non-economically-viable state, with no army. no work, and probably be taken over by Hamas and share the fate of the Gazan brothers. They will sit in misery and look at flourishing Israel across the border – and they will not stop the conflict. What CAN give them their aspirations is, to give the territories back to Jordan, from whom we took the land in the first place. With the territorial adjustment required to give Israel military security. This solution gives US security and the possibility to live on the West Bank with access to Jewish heritage sites, and gives the Palestinians the best life they can can hope for (except for life under Israeli rule).
    This option is unfortunately not pursued because Jordan does not seem willing – except, nobody has tried. The last thing Jordan needs is a Hamas-run sate behind their back – military cooperation between Israel and Jordan on the west bank is the only safe option for Jordan too.

  • Hasifleur

    Ummm….. a light year is a measure of distance, not time.