Mazal Tov, President Abbas Part 1

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Solidarity with the Palestinians

Earlier this month, a momentous occasion passed for the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas – he began the eighth year of his four-year term as President. But instead of a tsunami of congratulations from the world’s leaders for this popular figure on such a remarkable anniversary, the occasion has been almost universally ignored.

The absence of elections for the Presidency is not the only feature of Palestinian democracy to be ignored by large sections of the world’s political leaders and media. They have also ignored repeated cancellations of the Palestinian local elections. Likewise, the disappearance of elections to the Palestinian Authority has been greeted by silence. This is not an oversight.
There is a pattern and the pattern is clear. The Palestinian leaders, in both Gaza and the Disputed Territories, jettison democracy – and a host of other human rights – with scarcely any rebuke, challenge, adverse reaction, sanction or demand for its restitution. Anyone would think it a small or unimportant matter.

A crowning glory

In the Disputed Territories Abbas now rules as ‘President’. But how did he retain the Presidency without new elections at the end of his four-year term? The answer is simple. He was appointed to the post indefinitely by the PLO (which he also heads) in which the leading organization is Fatah (which he also leads). In other words, he rules by the straightforward authority of having the most force at this disposal; by decree not by democracy.

At first sight, the overwhelming silence that has greeted the anniversary of President Abbas and the eclipse of even basic elements of democracy in Gaza and the Disputed Territories of the West Bank may seem strange. After all, many world leaders have asserted or supported the assertion that the 2-State Solution to the Palestinian-Israel conflict would establish a democratic Palestine living alongside democratic Israel. It is claimed that this would provide both Israel and Palestine with peace and security.
One reason to find this convincing is the widespread belief that democracies don’t go to war with each other. Even if this idea falls short of being absolute or a guarantee of future peace, it still carries more positive weight than negative. In other words, previous international efforts to institute Palestinian democracy were apparently intended for the practical purpose of minimizing the possibilities of continued war with Israel.

The desirability & dispensability of Palestinian democracy

This theory supposedly makes Palestinian democracy highly desirable. At the same time, the prospect of a democratic Palestinian state is intended to reassure Israel that the 2-State Solution would enhance rather than endanger its security. Some commentators, such as The Economist in the UK, assert this at every opportunity.

In short, a democratic Palestinian state alongside the democratic state of Israel is a critical part of the 2-State Solution. As President Obama claims, this is supposed to satisfy the legitimate national aspirations of the Palestinians and at the same time satisfy the legitimate security aspirations of Israel.

Absent friends

Therefore, given this devotion to democracy, one would expect that the crashing democratic process among the Palestinians would be of great concern to advocates of the 2-State Solution. But where is this concern? Where is the outcry? Where are the protests? Where is the pressure on Abbas and the PA to reinstitute elections? Where is the expression of even the slightest concern from the Obama administration? Where are the resolutions from the EU? Where are the resolutions from the UN?

Likewise, from all those international campaigners for human rights and pro-democracy organizations, where is the international campaign to support the Palestinians? Where is the democratic solidarity from the ‘Palestinian Solidarity’ groups? Why is there no Support Palestinian Democracy campaign? Why are these violations of democracy so easily accepted? In other words, why is democracy no longer considered to be of interest or value to the Palestinians? Why is Palestinian democracy no longer considered to be one of the vital building-blocks of the ‘peace-process’?

This silence over the systematic and sustained trampling of Palestinian democracy and the ‘rights’ of the Palestinian people implies that the advocates of Palestinian rights have a purely anti-Israel interest and that Palestinian democracy is entirely dispensable. In short, it is not at all a genuine building-block of peace. Yet surely some expression of concern is warranted? Or was it basically a posture all along?

Where is the Palestinian Spring?

Just as worrying, the silence of the advocates of the 2-State Solution and the advocates of Palestinian rights in the face of this attack on those rights is matched by the absence of demands from the Palestinian people themselves for democracy. For the purposes of promoting the 2-State Solution, this is extremely significant. If Palestinian democracy really was so important for the 2-State Solution the lack of Palestinian interest in democracy must be a significant problem.

Obviously, for Israel, the prospect of living with its largest population concentrations within range of the hand-held rockets of fanatics of yet another tyrannical Arab state is hardly a mouth-watering prize. But perhaps this proximity could be tolerable for Israel if the non-democratic Palestinian state could be relied upon to deliver the promised peace and security. After all, so a common argument runs, Israel made a peace agreement with Egypt over thirty years ago.

The difference is that unlike the Palestinians, the Egyptians had no claim to Israeli territory. This made the agreement with Egypt comparatively straightforward. Additionally, the buffer of 200 kilometres of the Sinai separating Egyptian military forces from Israel was critical. This combination made the peace agreement with Egypt both desirable and acceptable to Israel (see The New Egypt & the Clash of Civilisations).

Denial, refusal & rejection of Jewish rights

But in the current circumstances, there is no parallel protection for Israel. As a result, the refusal of all Palestinian leaders, parties and militias, both inside the PA and outside, to accept Israel as a Jewish state remains the rock against which the 2-State Solution crashes. The fundamental issue is that the Palestinians continue their exclusive national claims and deny any such rights for Israel.

This was demonstrated yet again by the refusal of the Palestinians to accept the formula of 2-States for 2-Peoples suggested by The Quartet as a basis for renewed negotiations with Israel. Likewise, the speech by Abbas at the UN General Assembly, where he presented his claim for Palestinian statehood, contained not a single word of reconciliation with Israel. Nor did it exhibit the smallest degree of acceptance of Jewish rights or even acknowledgment that there were any.

Neither of these facets could be classed as a temporary aberration or oversight. In a plentiful supply of interviews with the Arabic media, Palestinian leaders are not at all shy about their scornful dismissal of the notion of any acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state. Abbas himself is quite free and open about this. Expressing his view on the PA’s own TV channel, he put it quite simply:

“We refuse to recognize a Jewish state.”
(02 June 2011, MEMRI clip 2959)

Or again on Egyptian TV:

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I will never recognize the Jewishness of the state, or a Jewish state.”
( 23 October 2011, MEMRI clip 3163)

Open secrets

Given the lack of reporting of such statements by the bulk of the western media, it is difficult for many to appreciate the scale and consistency of this denial. But these attitudes are not at all secret. Nor are they rare enough to be classed as occasional and unfortunate outbursts or tantrums born of frustration. These views are entirely mainstream, unexceptional and standard. They are a permanent and normal feature of Palestinian discourse. All Palestinian leaders express them – both within the PA in West Bank as well as in Gaza ruled by Hamas (see Tzipi Livni: Inept or Dangerous?).

Equally constant, permanent and normal is the way all this is overwhelmingly ignored by large sections of the international media – such as the UK Guardian and BBC. Like the silence over the systematic attacks on Palestinian democracy, this ensures that those who rely on these media outlets for their main or only source of information are systematically deprived of it. In essence, they are being misinformed, misguided and misled. They are being fooled.

Yet without the acceptance by the Palestinians of Jewish-Israeli national rights or some protective equivalent of the 200 kilometres of Sinai, Israel can only be confident that a Palestinian state will mean a deterioration of the terms of the conflict. The continued Palestinian claims against the whole territory of Israel and its counter-part, the Palestinian claim to a so-called right of return to Israel of the uniquely and peculiarly defined refugees (rather than to a new Palestinian state), means that all the ingredients remain in place for the continuation of the conflict rather than its end.

Getting round the Palestinian reject of Israel?

For Israel, this would be an alarming and dangerous worsening of the situation. Without the advantage of ‘natural’ security measures, such as the 200 kilometres of Sinai, or the acceptance by the Palestinians of its right to exist as a Jewish state, powerful alternative measures will be needed to defend Israel. One of these was supposed to have been the now-jettisoned prospect of Palestinian democracy.

Another has been the promotion by Prime Minister Netanyahu of the goal of a demilitarized Palestinian state. Naturally, this will be resisted by any Palestinian government and will prove entirely unenforceable and thus unworkable.

Further, the powerful showing of fanatical anti-Israel and anti-Semitic organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood and various Salafist organizations during the ‘Arab Spring’ elections means a huge boost for anti-Israeli sentiment throughout the Arab world. This can only make a settlement with the Palestinians even more remote. As a result, without so much as a trace of a Palestinian leadership that is willing and able to end the conflict, it is set to continue far into the future.

Palestinian errors & Israeli mistakes

To add insult to the injury of this dangerous situation, during the Palestinian bid for statehood last September at the UN General Assembly, Israeli diplomats and numerous media commentators followed the lead of President Obama. This characterized the bid as a simple mistake. That is, they claimed that it was an error on the part of the Palestinian leaders; that the Palestinian bid at the UN General Assembly was really the wrong way to go about establishing peace; it was misguided. Instead, a better approach and more acceptable would be renewed negotiations with Israel.

In short, they maintained the fiction that the Palestinian leaders are willing to make an end-of-conflict agreement with Israel. Parallel to this they also maintained the illusion that they are capable of implementing such an agreement. Both propositions are nonsense.

Yet instead of even trying to explain the reality of undiminished Palestinian hostility towards the existence of Israel, they joined in the promotion and maintenance of an illusion that the Palestinian leaders really want a peace settlement with Israel. As a result, as well as being embarrassingly weak, they pathetically missed a marvellous opportunity to enhance Israel’s diplomatic position on practically every TV channel in the western world. In effect, our public representatives left the political initiative and the struggle over the rival narratives to President Abbas.

For Part Two, click here.

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