Abu Mazen’s renewed campaign to mitigate the damage of the knife terror wave on the Israeli attitude toward the Palestinians and his recent successful effort to reduce the terror wave reflect the pressure he is facing and his role in initiating and controlling it.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has recently aimed a new public-diplomacy campaign at the Israeli people. He hosted a delegation of Jews who emigrated from Arab countries and gave an interview to Israeli TV investigative journalist Ilana Dayan (Uvdah program, Channel 2, March 31, 2016). The Israelis who met with him were told of his commitment to peace, recognition of Netanyahu as Israel’s representative, readiness to negotiate with him, and measures to prevent terror attacks. They were told of his notion that the Jews who grew up in the Arab world in an atmosphere of neighborliness are natural peace promoters and of his feeling that peace efforts must be accelerated because time is running out.
Very good, no? Well, perhaps not so good.
Abbas’ sweet talk did not even convince his interlocutors, who are known to be fair game for his blandishments. True, Dayan asked him tougher questions than other Israeli interviewers. But she saw no need to ask why he does not simply condemn the perpetrators of the terror attacks instead of mouthing platitudes about how we are all human beings, and why he does not even say that in Arabic to his people. Still worse, she did not ask why he speaks of the two-state solution but not about two states for two peoples, and why he repeatedly uses the phrase “the Israeli people” and never “the Jewish people.” (It is striking how, every time Abbas has spoken the former phrase, the translator has preferred other designations such as “the Israelis” or “the people in Israel.”)
The representatives of the Jews from Arab lands indeed complained that the PA chairman had not fulfilled previous promises he had given them about turning to Netanyahu and the king of Morocco in pursuit of peace. Yet, they ignored an article that Abbas published in 1979 and again in 2012, in which he tells the tale that those Jews’ immigration to Israel, particularly from Iraq, was entirely the result of a plot concocted by the Ashkenazi Zionists who, in the wake of the nakba, wanted cheap manpower to replace the Palestinian workers. Abbas, of course, ignored the persecution of the Jews in those countries, including Iraq, and the fact that they were expelled from them with no option of returning. In other words, Abbas does not deviate one iota from the Palestinian narrative that underpins the knife terror.
What was indeed new in Abbas’ words, however, was his story about the PA’s efforts to convince Palestinian youngsters in the school not to carry out stabbing attacks. It is a hair-raising story: Abbas said that in one of the schools 70 students had knives in their backpacks with which they were planning to stab Jews. Second, it shows that Abbas believes in his ability to rein in the phenomenon, if not end it completely, and third, it raises the question of why he decided only now to do something about it.
Terrorism Loses Its Benefits
The answer is apparently also linked to his decision to launch a new public-diplomacy offensive at this stage and his recognition of the declining expediency and rising price of the terror campaign. At least for the time being, the knife terror has more or less exhausted its capacity to return the spotlight to the Palestinian issue. The terror attack in Brussels has again pushed the Palestinian issue to the margins of the international system, and the association being made between the anti-Western terror and the anti-Jewish terror in Israel is not to the Palestinians’ benefit.
Second, the terror has only reconfirmed the Israeli Jewish public’s sobriety about the chances of real peace in this generation, along with their opposition to a settlement based on the core Palestinian positions – that is, granting the Palestinians a state without having to renounce their committed goal of eventually ruling the rest of historical Palestine and vanquishing Zionism.
Third, the international attitude toward boycotting Israel is beginning to change dramatically. There is now more of an inclination to condemn BDS for its fundamentally anti-Semitic stance which denies the Jewish nation-state’s right to exist than to justify the ongoing demonization of Israel. The change in direction is evident in resolutions by legislatures in Canada and in American states, in decisions by European governments, courts, and municipalities, and in the declaration by the regents of the University of California that some kinds of anti-Zionism constitute anti-Semitism (they used rhetorical niceties to placate the radical Palestinians and avoid approving the original wording, which asserts, in line with the U.S. State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism pure and simple). Fourth, international criticism of the PA’s role in encouraging the terror attacks has begun to emerge (see the article in the British Daily Mail that calls for cutting aid to the PA used to pay salaries for terrorists and their family members). And, fifth, the shocking shooting incident [of a Palestinian stabber by an IDF soldier] in Hebron holds positive potential for the Palestinians that they would not want to risk squandering by renewing the wave of terror attacks.
The attempt to win over Israelis’ hearts and minds on the one hand and to decrease the terror attacks on the other are apparently interconnected, not coincidental. Israel must take advantage of these developments. If they lead Abbas to show readiness to negotiate with Israel without preconditions, that can only be welcomed (at this stage, even according to the interview with Ilana Dayan, we are not there yet, and the Palestinian attempt to secure a Security Council resolution on the conflict is a clear indication that they refuse to enter direct negotiations without preconditions). If not, the task with the international system’s help is to make Abu Mazen feel more and more that his situation is worsening, and negotiations are the only remedy.
* This is the JCPA’s English translation of the original Hebrew article in Ha’aretz, on April 6, 2016.