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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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