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Op-Ed

Abbas, Sending Mixed Messages is not Peacemaking

Abraham H. Foxman
National Director of the Anti-Defamation League

This article originally appeared in Haaretz on December 20, 2012

Read the op-ed page of most newspapers around the world, and you would be convinced that Israel's leadership, policies and ideology are to blame for the moribund state of Israeli-Palestinian relations. If only Israel took dramatic action (usually involving a change in its approach to settlements) to demonstrate it is truly committed to reaching peace - according to those opinion-makers - all the rest would neatly fall into place.

Seldom is the question asked whether the Palestinians are truly interested in reconciliation with Israel, ending the conflict and all claims. An analysis of recent Palestinian policies and statements suggests a mixed message at best, and clear "no" at worst.

For more than two years, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas - who is internationally portrayed as the moderate, peace-seeking, representative leader of the Palestinian people - has ignored repeated calls by Israel to return to negotiations, choosing instead to pursue counterproductive unilateral measures to promote Palestinian statehood.

Abbas' public statements and postures tell a troubling story. Last month, speaking before the UN General Assembly's vote to upgrade the Palestinians' UN status, Abbas once again charged the Jewish state with everything from racism and genocide, to ethnic cleansing and the Judaisation of Jerusalem, using these defamatory accusations to justify the Palestinians' statehood request.

He made no mention of the violent terrorist actions committed by Hamas and other Gaza-based Palestinian factions against Israel, including last month's eight-day long rocket bombardment of Israeli cities and towns. And, in a chilling development, Abbas's ruling Fatah party recently released a new logo commemorating their UN victory, depicting a rifle barrel and a Palestinian keffiyah (headscarf) covering the entire territory of the State of Israel. This logo, intended to represent a new stage in the Palestinian quest for statehood, conveys a message of violence and rejectionism toward Israel - saying to the Palestinian people that Israel will disappear.

As for Hamas, while there are no illusions about the terrorist organization's violent ideology, some have suggested that its leadership might be softening its attitude toward Israel. As an example they point to Khaled Meshal, Hamas's leader-in-exile, who recently suggested in an interview on CNN that he tacitly supported a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders. Then, just days later, Mashaal showed his true colors while addressing his own people in Gaza, where he called for the destruction of the Jewish state through armed resistance and martyrdom, stating that "Jihad and armed resistance are the proper and true path to liberation," and rejected any historical Jewish connection to Israel.

Hamas' attitude clearly remains violently malevolent and rejectionist, and Meshal's behavior reinforces the organization's continued annihilationist views toward Israel.

Yet while recent Palestinian initiatives and statements indicate their lack of interest in pursuing peace, it is important to distinguish Palestinian President Abbas from Meshal and other Hamas leaders.

Unlike Hamas, Abbas has spoken in favor of a two-state solution and publicly defended his recognition of the State of Israel. During his recent visit to Turkey, the Palestinian president even denounced Mashaal's refusal to recognize Israel, saying that the Palestinians have recognized Israel since the 1993 Oslo accords.

He also made a point of reminding Hamas that their recent unity agreement with Fatah stipulates a two-state vision, and claimed that he does not support violence against Israel as a means of achieving a Palestinian state.

The challenge is how to transform this unrealized potential of Abbas as a peacemaker into a reality and away from his rejectionist tendencies.

While Western analysts are wrong to focus exclusively on Israeli policies as the root cause of the Israeli-Palestinian political impasse, Israel's leadership could undertake more confidence-building measures reinforcing its commitment to reconciliation with the Palestinians and willingness to make the difficult concessions required to achieve it.

As for the Palestinian Authority, it must cease its stubborn refusal to negotiate with Israel, stop their foolhardy and hollow efforts to gain membership in international organizations and put an end to incendiary rhetoric and imagery. They must acknowledge that, as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton so aptly put it, the road to Palestinian statehood runs through Jerusalem and Ramallah, and not New York.

Furthermore, Abbas must make clear that a unity agreement with Hamas will only be meaningful if and when Hamas renounces violence against Israel, and accepts the two-state solution. Until that happens, neither Israel nor the international community will be able to accept the terrorist organization's participation in a process leading to a complete resolution of the conflict and end to all claims.

The time has come for Abbas to demonstrate true leadership, and follow through on his pledge to unconditionally return to Quartet-sponsored negotiations following the UN vote. It is no longer sufficient for the Palestinians to simply pay lip service to peace by acknowledging Israel and denouncing violence; it is now imperative for Abbas to show the world which message he truly believes in – good-faith negotiations with Israel or prolonged and sustained conflict.

Israel is waiting.

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