Some scarecrows are charmers. They cannot maintain their upright position without outside support, but there’s a wide engaging smile scrawled on their faces and their incontrovertible cute-factor makes everyone adore them.
Just hear all that pretentious poppycock spouted at us by world opinion (as ever, resonated shrilly by our own left wing). According to trendy conventional wisdom, the Palestinian Authority’s scarecrow – Mahmoud Abbas – can do no wrong. At the same time, the Israelis who keep him from keeling over can do no right. Simple isn’t it?
Abbas was universally lauded for purity of heart and purpose when he first ascended Yasser Arafat’s vacated throne in 2004. After his recently announced retirement, Abbas is piteously beseeched to please reconsider. As per pompous Western pundits, the scarecrow shakily ensconced in Ramallah is our last viable hope for peace. The scarecrow must be saved. Without him the sky is sure to come crashing down.
And who instilled all that dejection and gloom in our upstanding scarecrow? Who is responsible for his desperation, for the I-can-go-on-no-longer melancholy? Only one answer exists: intransigent settlement-building, concord-stifling, conquistador Israel.
BUT BEFORE we subscribe to the international community’s premise of Israeli culpability for all that goes awry (and plenty does), there are four critical questions to ponder: Does Abbas deserve his good-guy credentials? Why has he proven such an abysmal failure? Who truly undermined him? And is he worth saving?
1. Is Abbas really righteous? Holocaust-denier Abbas is indisputably a more urbane version of Arafat, with better PR-sense and a closer shave (not that Arafat in his day wasn’t adulated as the harbinger of optimism and harmony). True, Abbas sings Arafat’s song, but, oh, how much more genteel the rendition!
Abbas has no use for Arafat’s in-your-face hysterical chants. He’d never send us to drink from Gaza’s sea nor openly exhort millions to march on Jerusalem. His style is slyer than that. To paraphrase Roberta Flack’s 1973 hit, mild-mannered Abbas is “killing us softly with his words.”
His repertoire consists of the same reliable old Arafat standbys – back to the 1949 armistice lines, Jerusalem is Arab Palestine’s capital, no antiterrorist campaign, no end to incitement and no relinquishment of the right to inundate the Jewish state with hostile Arabs.
But Abbas does offer compromise. While he insists the Western Wall be placed under exclusive Muslim control, he magnanimously agrees to permit small numbers of Jews to pray at a limited section thereof under conditions stipulated in 1930 by the Mandate’s post-Hebron-massacre Shaw Commission (which forbade the blowing of the shofar). Abbas pledges to generously allow us to reassume our once-lowly status. Big of him.
2. Who impeded Abbas’s success? In point of fact Abbas didn’t really stand a reasonable chance to begin with. He was pretty much bound to flop. He cannot pull his own public toward an accommodation with Israel. It’s not a matter of conciliatory forces overcoming fanatics. The Arab street consistently, since 1920, seems controlled by an inexorable self-destruct mechanism compelling it to follow the most extreme available option. Perceived moderates are cravenly defensive and are neutralized to no small measure by their own machinations. They themselves fan the flames of zealotry. Rather than dispute radical narratives, they echo them as means to winning popularity.
It all boils down to a contest between run-of-the-mill hard-liners and even more unyielding hard-liners. No truly painful concessions are even remotely contemplated in Ramallah.
No body of opinion dares depart from entrenched revilement of the “Zionist entity.” All libel and demonize Israel. To the extent that variant views exist, they are only cosmetic and superficial. The debate is make-believe, not about substance but about which anti-Israel tactics are preferable.
Entirely missing from the Palestinian equation is a peace camp, one which need not embrace Israel – as some Israelis do the Palestinians – but a party which thoroughly reevaluates the regression, damage and suffering that Palestinian-instigated violence has over the generations inflicted upon Palestinian society itself. Such sobering reassessment is primarily the Palestinian interest – for their own sake and not for the love of us.
Sadly, however, it appears the taboo on sincere reconciliation with Israel as a Jewish state with a moral right to continue existing in this region is too powerful for any aspiring Palestinian politician to break. Not a word is heard across the Green Line about genuine unequivocal acceptance of Israel. At most there is reluctant readiness for a limited truce so long as Israel basically capitulates to every last Arab precondition.
Abbas is entrapped in his own mendacious rhetoric and in the very uncompromising consensus he actively helps construct. He was therefore even powerless to please US President Barack Obama by postponing the showdown on the Goldstone report.
3. What rendered Abbas so disconsolate? According to the prevalent liberal legend, his spirit was crushed because all settlement growth – the microscopic traces thereof that can at all still be vaguely detected – wasn’t forthwith frozen for good. Israel’s inability to fulfill his wish obediently and Obama’s inability to twist Israel’s arms instantly and excruciatingly was more than Abbas could withstand.
Perhaps Abbas’s travails have less to do with Israel and everything to do with Obama’s egregious misreading of a region that fails to conform to progressive Harvard texts? Obama essentially forced Abbas to call the January 24 election. American democracy loves elections, but in the undemocratic Muslim galaxy they spell nothing but trouble (Afghanistan being merely one palpable example). When George W. Bush pressured Abbas to hold the 2006 election, he set off a disastrous chain-reaction that propelled Hamas to power in Gaza.
No future PA electoral result would be legitimized by Hamas but is likely to trigger a power struggle that could lose Abbas the remainder of his latifundia. There is no way the scarecrow Israel artificially props up as its peace partner can survive another American-imposed election.
Abbas knows that his sole source of security in Ramallah is the IDF. He cannot endure without Israel, yet he cannot appear to be in its debt. He cannot shirk the Hamas threat and he cannot in reality stand up to it. He cannot do without America’s embrace but it also breaks his ribs. It’s all pretty disheartening, but settlements have nothing to do with Abbas’s bind. Settlements are nothing but his pretext.
4. Is Abbas indispensable? Just about as much as the scarecrow is in the vegetable patch. He doesn’t do much, but some gardeners swear by their handcrafted creation. The scarecrow, to be sure, contributes to the ambiance with his undeniable whimsical decorative value, which is more than can be said for Abbas. To declare the Ramallah scarecrow an interlocutor is to elevate the useless relic to the status of a daunting delusion. To offer life-risking concessions to the haggard effigy is nothing but stupid and dangerous.