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December 25, 2017 11:39 am

Trump’s Embassy Move Proved Abbas Doesn’t Want Peace

avatar by Jonathan S. Tobin /


US President Donald Trump and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem on May 23, 2017. Photo: White House. – Earlier this month, more than 10,000 Israelis turned out for demonstrations in Tel Aviv against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Their purpose was to draw attention to corruption charges lodged against the prime minister. If Netanyahu ends up being charged with a crime it will almost certainly mean that his fourth — and third consecutive — term in office will be his last.

Or at least that’s what his opponents are hoping. If Netanyahu does survive, the events of the last three weeks are making it look like the prime minister, or whoever succeeds him as head of the Likud party and the coalition that it leads, is likely to emerge as the victor in the next Israeli election.

With Palestinians expressing “rage” about President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, it appears that security and the peace process — rather than corruption or the plight of the middle class — is what will continue to determine the outcome of elections in the Jewish state. And so long as that is true, those American Jews who think that Israel should be pressured into making concessions, need to understand the impact of Trump’s move — and the Palestinian reaction to it — on the Israeli public.

Trump’s decision provoked some curious reactions among American Jews, the vast majority of whom are fervently opposed to his administration. For some leaders of Reform Judaism, they opposed his decision. Their position — and that of many on the Jewish left — was that nothing Trump did could possibly be good for the Jews. That may make sense to partisan Democrats, but it also puts them out of touch with the vast majority of Israelis, who embraced the president’s announcement.

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Yet the most important reaction to Trump came from the Palestinian Authority (PA) and its leader, Mahmoud Abbas.

No one expected the Palestinians to welcome Trump’s stand. But if Abbas were sincere about pursuing a two-state solution, he would have treated Trump’s carefully calibrated statement as a victory rather than a defeat.

Trump did not endorse a united Jerusalem or preclude support for two states — or even a re-partition of the city. Abbas could have used this as a jumping-off point for an effort to persuade the US to endorse a Palestinian capital in part of Jerusalem, which would have strengthened his position in negotiations that Trump hopes to restart.

But instead, Abbas doubled down on the same antisemitic denial of Jewish history that has characterized Palestinian discourse for the last century.

In a speech to an Islamic conference held in Turkey to protest Trump’s statement, Abbas claimed that only Muslims and Christians had any rights to the holy places in Jerusalem. Abbas’ hateful rhetoric, and the PA’s resolve to use its broadcast and print media to incite violence against Israelis in the wake of Trump’s speech, may be what Abbas needs to do to survive against his Hamas rivals. But it is also confirming the solid consensus of opinion in Israel across the political spectrum that views Abbas and the PA as opponents of peace, rather than potential peace partners — as Israel’s critics assert.

By trying to start another intifada, and by doubling down on the notion that Israel has no rights in Jerusalem, Abbas has once again done something for Netanyahu that the prime minister could not achieve on his own. He has validated the Israeli right’s belief that, as bad as it is, the status quo is preferable than replicating Ariel Sharon’s 2005 withdrawal from Gaza.

While some American Jews still believe that Israel must be pressured to make territorial withdrawals for the sake of peace, Abbas’ conduct has convinced most Israelis that such a policy would be insane. The fact that Netanyahu’s main rivals are more or less echoing his stands demonstrates that there is very little appetite in Israel for giving up more territory under the current circumstances. It also highlights the fact that so long as the alternatives to the Likud have nothing better to offer Israelis, Likud is likely to stay in power.

What Trump did on Jerusalem gratified Israelis. But it also gave Abbas the opportunity to demonstrate to voters in the Jewish state that there is no viable alternative to Netanyahu’s policies. That’s something that American Jewish critics of Trump and Israel would be foolish to ignore.

Jonathan S. Tobin is the editor-in-chief of JNS. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

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