One wonders if, during his meeting with Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas at the White House on Monday (reports here and here), President Obama ever felt he was being subjected to a shakedown. In front of the press, Abbas expressed his concern about Israel’s freeing of a fourth and last batch of 26 convicted Palestinian terrorists on the scheduled date, March 29, saying this would “give a very solid impression about the seriousness of the Israelis on the peace process.”
This latest “process,” which began for a nine-month period last July, is due to end—unless extended—in April. To put it mildly, it would not go over well in Israel, and certainly not in Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s coalition, if the prisoners were freed carte blanche, without even the talks’ continuation as a supposed recompense.
Abbas, of course, is under pressure from home to get the 26 sprung from jail. He is not under pressure to “make peace” with Israel, a Western concept foreign to the Palestinian population, which has been fed—under Abbas’s tutelage—a diet of pure hatred and delegitimization of Israel.
Abbas further pursued the shakedown effort by claiming the Palestinians had already recognized Israel in 1988 and 1993. It was an attempt to evade Israel’s demand for recognition as a Jewish state. It was also untrue.
As noted by Alan Baker, a former legal adviser to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, the supposed 1988 recognition of Israel as a Jewish state by Yasser Arafat, Abbas’s predecessor, was rejected as totally inadequate by the U.S. at the time. As for 1993, at that time Arafat purportedly recognized Israel’s “right to exist”—but with no mention of its Jewish character.
That ongoing evasion has a simple basis: acknowledging Israel as a Jewish state would—albeit only semantically—entail an end to demands to flood it with “refugees.” It is something Abbas is adamantly unwilling to do—not even to promote that other supreme value of getting the convicted terrorists released.
It sounds, in other words, like a deadlock—as just about everyone knowledgeable in these matters predicted back when this latest “process” was getting underway.
Obama, for his part, praised Abbas as “someone who has renounced violence” and did not subject him to any of the belligerent criticism to which he subjected Netanyahu as he made his way to the White House two weeks ago.
Again, some things are predictable; no one expected the “violence-renouncing” Abbas, who earlier this month sent a wreath to honor a suicide bomber who in 2002 killed eight people by blowing himself up on an Israeli bus, to catch any of the special antagonism Obama reserves for the Israeli leader.
A note of realism did seem to creep in when Obama called peace an “elusive goal” and said, “It’s very hard. It’s very challenging. We’re going to have to take some tough political decisions and risks if we’re able to move it forward.”
A few days earlier Israel’s straight-talking defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, put it bluntly and—to his credit—undiplomatically when he said:
Unfortunately, an agreement will not happen in my generation…. Abbas is a partner who takes, not a partner who gives. He is not a partner for a permanent peace agreement that includes recognition of Israel as the national state of the Jewish people. He just takes back prisoners….
In other words, what is known as a shakedown. The next couple of weeks should tell which of two unpalatable possibilities faces Israel: the shakedown continues; or it ends, with the Palestinian Authority turning to the UN to wage diplomatic war against Israel, and Israel hardly assured of U.S. support.
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