The Paradox: Taking Abu Mazen at his Word

The Paradox: Taking Abu Mazen at his Word

By Gilly Harpaz, Walla News

11.5.14
Translation by Geneva Initiative
 
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu didn't believe PA President Mahmoud Abbas when he called the Holocaust the most heinous crime against humanity in the modern era. So why is he insisting that Abu Mazen recognize Israel as a Jewish state? Will he believe him then?
 
 
On the Eve of Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), the President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) released a statement stating that "the Holocaust is the most heinous crime to have occurred against humanity in the modern era", and offered condolences to the families of the Jewish victims who were killed by the Nazis. Abbas, who has been accused of being a Holocuast denier on the basis of his doctoral thesis which he completed years ago (in which he wrote that "raising the issue of the number of the Jews who were killed does not diminish in the slightest the terrible nature of the crime that was committed against them"), clearly and loudly disavowed denial of the Holocaust in English and in Arabic. In response, Prime Minister Netanyahu dismissed Abbas's declaration and called it a hollow statement. In other words, Netanyahu preferred to believe Abbas when he supposedly denied the Holocuast, but not when he clearly condemned it.
 
Recently the Palestinian president reached a set of understandings with the Hamas movement that would see the creation of a unity government which would in his words, "recognize Israel and condemn terror." For the sake of our discussion, let's put aside the fact that a Palestinian reconciliation was previously announced on two occasions but not implemented, or that the partner in the negotiations with Israel has always been the PLO and not the Palestinian government (Most Israelis are familiar with the chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erakat, but would struggle to name the Palestinian Foreign Minister or even Prime Minister).
 
In Arabic, Hebrew, English and Yiddish
 
Close associates of Abu Mazen's explain that the timing of the current reconciliation agreement was chosen due to the President's wish to see Hamas legitimatize, even indirectly, the negotiations with Israel. A reconciliation process that was initiated after the official failure of peace talks would only strengthen the extremists. In response to the reconciliation agreement, Netanyahu called a cabinet meeting which immediately announced the immediate suspension of the peace negotiations and added that "Instead of choosing peace, Abu Mazen formed an alliance with a murderous terrorist organization." Netanyahu prefers to believe that Abu Mazen reached the reconciliation agreement in order to join forces with a terror organization and shatter the peace process, rather than believe that he was motivated to attempt to pull Hamas into the peace process in order to reach an agreement with Israel with a broader political coalition.
 
During the recent negotiations, Netanyahu demanded that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Palestinian state. Let's ignore the fact that the Palestinians de facto recognized Israel as a Jewish state when they adopted the 1947 UN Partition in the Algiers Declaration in 1988 and recognized Israel's right to exist within the Oslo framework in 1993. Let's assume that Netanyahu's demand was justified and necessary. And let's assume that Abu Mazen were to agree to the demand and declare that Israel is the State of the Jewish people for eternity, and that he does it in English, Arabic, Hebrew and even Yiddish. Would Prime Minister Netanyahu even believe him? After all, we are talking about a man who systematically denies the Holocaust and reconciles with Hamas for terror, and publishes contradictory "hollow declarations." If Abu Mazen didn't really mean that the Holocaust was the most heinous crime against humanity in the modern era, why would his recognition of Israel as a Jewish state be any more credible to Netanyahu.
 
There is a popular argument which says that that to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians we first need to build relations of trust with them. However, it is more reasonable to assume that the two sides, who have been involved in a bloody conflict for many long years, will not simply wake up one day and trust each other. A more realistic solution involves reaching an agreement that protects each side's critical interests and guarantees that neither side has an interest in breaching the agreement.
 
Instead of waiting for Abu Mazen to become trustworthy according to Netanyahu's standards, Israel should put him to the test by presenting a realistic proposal for a permanent status agreement (along the lines of the Clinton outlines or Geneva Initiative), and then it will become clear whether there is or isn't a genuine Palestinian partner to an agreement. The problem is that for this to happen, there needs to be an Israeli partner that genuinely wants an agreement, and which is just a little more trusting and a little less frightened.
 
Gilly Harpaz is the Geneva Initiative (Israel) Spokesperson