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January 13, 2022 11:53 am
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Normalizing Terrorism? Irish Times Reimagines Mahmoud Abbas as Man of Peace, Israel as Obstacle to Two-State Solution

avatar by Rachel O'Donoghue

Opinion

The scene of a stabbing in Jaffa that security services suspect may have been a terror attack, Nov. 21, 2021. Photo: Israel Police.

The Irish Times has reported on Mahmoud Abbas beginning an unprecedented 17th year in office as president of the Palestinian Authority (PA) — a position that he maintains despite winning just a single election for a four-year term in 2005.

The article, “Abbas enters his 17th year in power amid criticism and uncertainty,” written by the outlet’s Middle East reporter Michael Jansen, describes how Abbas ascended to power following the death of Egyptian-born former leader Yasser Arafat:

Abbas (86) succeeded as president veteran Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who died in November 2004. While Arafat employed both armed resistance and peacemaking to secure a Palestinian state alongside Israel, Abbas focused solely on negotiations.

Some of his efforts culminated in the 1993 Oslo accord, raising Palestinian, Arab and global hopes for the resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Oslo initially boosted Abbas’s position within the Palestinian movement and made him a likely successor to Arafat. He was elected by a 63 per cent majority.

Jansen’s portrayal of Abbas as an arbitrator who has worked to broker peace with Israel is an astonishing departure from the truth.

The reality is that Abbas’ long reign has been characterized by a pattern of rejectionism that has seen him turn down numerous offers of comprehensive peace agreements with Israel, including proposals that would have seen the creation of an independent Palestinian state on almost all of the West Bank and the entirety of the Gaza Strip, with the eastern area of Jerusalem as its capital.

In addition, Abbas effectively spurned US-led initiatives to restart peace negotiations in 2014 and 2016 — the latter of which occurred during the Obama administration, which was widely seen as more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.

Abbas has also resolutely refused to stop paying “salaries” to terrorists who murder innocent Israelis, under the PA’s so-called “Pay-for-Slay” scheme. This, despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of Palestinian civilians suffer as a result of the scheme, due to Israel’s policy of freezing tax funds it collects on behalf of the PA to offset the amounts paid out under the “martyrs’ fund” — cash that Abbas could have used to improve living conditions in the West Bank.

Likewise, as per the provisions of the Taylor Force Act, the United States conditions aid to the PA upon ending such financial incentives for terrorism.

Jansen goes on to state that the 1993 Oslo negotiations raised “Palestinian, Arab and global hopes” for an end to the conflict. Notably absent in those parties wishing for peace, though, is Israel.

It is a striking omission, considering that Israel initiated the negotiations. Yet the piece reads as though Jansen is tacitly suggesting that Jerusalem hoped the talks would fail.

The report continues:

While Palestinians were united in resistance to the Israeli occupation during the 1987-93 first intifada, he agreed Norway could broker back-channel talks with Israel.

Drawn up secretly by Israeli lawyers and two political representatives chosen by Abbas, the deeply flawed Oslo deal did not lead to the emergence by 1999 of the state the Palestinians expected, and in 2000 the second intifada began.

The description of the climate that led to the violent Palestinian uprisings is deeply troubling: Jansen writes as though they erupted from nowhere, and were not the end result of a perpetual culture of incitement from a Palestinian leadership that glorifies terrorists — vaunting such individuals as “martyrs” and heroes.

Indeed, during the five years of the Second Intifada, suicide bombings, shootings, and riots became a part of Israelis’ daily lives. It was a campaign of guerrilla warfare against civilians that Yasser Arafat, who Jansen blandly describes as employing “armed resistance,” actively encouraged his security forces to participate in, including at one meeting in which he reportedly asked advisors, “Why do the Jews not have more deaths? You know what to do.”

Jansen then laments that the Oslo negotiations did not result in the establishment of a Palestinian state. However, the Oslo Accords outlined a process by which statehood could be realized; it began with the creation of the Palestinian Authority and its Palestinian Legislative Council, which would govern part of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip

A lasting deal was further contingent on the PA’s commitment to fighting terrorism and ceasing the encouragement of such atrocities — a promise that did not materialize.

Toward the end of the piece, Jansen gives a brief summary of the political situation in the Gaza Strip:

However, since Hamas seized power there in 2007, Gaza has been isolated, besieged and blockaded by Israel and shunned by Abbas.

There is no mention that Hamas is designated a terrorist organization by the European Union – a political bloc that Ireland is a member of – which is one of the reasons that it is “isolated,” or that, like Israel, Egypt has also blockaded the coastal enclave for security purposes. Nor is any detail given as to why such measures are necessary: Hamas has repeatedly vowed to exterminate the Jewish state; amassed huge firepower thanks to generous donations from Iran, and has indiscriminately fired rockets at Israel and tried to launch terror attacks against civilians.

In the recent May 2021 conflict, for example, the Islamist terror group fired more than 3,000 projectiles at civilian-populated towns and cities, while it is believed to be hoarding approximately 30,000 rockets, which its fighters have a tendency to store underneath schools and hospitals.

But instead of including these salient details, Jansen’s 550-word article reimagines history. And by sanitizing Abbas’ rejection of coexistence with Israel, The Irish Times perpetuates a narrative that effectively normalizes acts of terrorism.

The author is a contributor to HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog with a focus on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias — where a version of this article first appeared.

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