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With some Western observers finally beginning to see through Abbas’s con, the Palestinian president then launched a new PR campaign to prove that it was Netanyahu, not himself, who was intransigent. In several public commentaries he suddenly remembered that he and Prime Minister Olmert had been tantalizingly close to an overall peace agreement back in September 2008. The only reason that progress toward peace was blocked, Abbas now claimed, was that Olmert became distracted by his legal problems and the beginning of the Gaza War in December 2008. As I recently pointed out, reporters for the New York Times willingly served as Abbas’s “useful idiots” in rewriting the history of the Olmert-Abbas negotiations. In a front-page news story, plus a ballyhooed cover story in the paper’s Sunday magazine, the Times absolved Abbas of any responsibility for the breakup of the September 2008 talks with Olmert. Going even further than usual into the realm of political advocacy, the Times story, written by Bernard Avishai, also suggested that the small differences between the parties could be quickly resolved if the Obama administration would reengage in the peace process.
But within days of the Times magazine story, Abbas proved definitively how disinterested he really was in picking up the negotiations from 2008. The Palestinian leadership pushed hard for passage of a UN Security Council resolution declaring that the Israeli West Bank settlements were illegal. With the Middle East in an uproar from Tunis to Tripoli, President Obama was forced to call Abbas and plead with the Palestinian leader to accept a milder, nonbinding resolution that would retain the condemnation of Israel’s continued settlement activity. But Abbas nevertheless pushed ahead, knowing that the stronger resolution would put Obama between the proverbial rock and a hard place. In doing so, the Palestinian leader made it almost impossible for the American administration to serve as an honest broker and bring the parties together around the parameters of the stalled Olmert-Abbas negotiations.
This is exactly what Abbas intended when he forced the Security Council to vote on the resolution calling the Israeli settlements illegal. The Palestinians would rather rage against the settlements than negotiate a land swap that would give them a state and make the settlement issue irrelevant. The reason for that intransigence is now clearer than ever. There is yet no Palestinian leader with the courage and vision to declare to the residents of the refugee camps that their 60-year-old dream of returning to their former homes in Israel is—and always was—a mirage. Until the Obama administration recognizes that truth and tells it to the Palestinians, its diplomatic approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict will remain as feckless as it is fruitless.
Sol Stern is a contributing editor of City Journal, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, and the author of Breaking Free: Public School Lessons and the Imperative of School Choice.