More articles by
Yacov Ben Efrat
Abu Mazen: The peace camp's partner or gravedigger?
About 15,000 people gathered in Rabin Square to mark 50 years of Occupation and call for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. One by one, leaders of the peace camp took to the stage, from “Buji” Herzog to Ayman Odeh, as President Abu Mazen’s message echoed in their ears: "There is no stronger voice than the voice of a just and comprehensive peace, just as there is no stronger voice than the right of nations to self-determination and freedom from the burden of Occupation. The time has come to live — both you and us — in peace, harmony, security and stability. The only way to end the conflict and the fight against terror in the region and the world is a two-state solution based on the June 1967 borders, Palestine by Israel’s side.” Strong words intended to breathe life into a camp that has lost faith in itself and continues to believe in the slogan of “two states,” which has become obsolete and has no way of being realized.
On the face of it, Abu Mazen is the “ultimate” partner of the peace camp. But in reality, he is its gravedigger. He enjoys the praises of those seeking peace, but he is skeptical of the possibility of a political upheaval that will put an end to Israel’s right-wing government. And since political upheaval is not in sight, the two-state slogan has become a rationalization for the continued existence of the Palestinian Authority (PA), which, over time, has become a temporary solution to a permanent condition. Most of Abu Mazen's energy is not aimed at ending the Occupation, but rather at trying to eliminate Hamas. While security coordination has become a cornerstone of the relationship between the PA and Israel, the struggle against Hamas has become a major obsession, and the PA hasn’t hesitated to prevent fuel, medicines and salaries from reaching Gaza, at the same time employing other pressure to bring Hamas to its knees and return Gaza to the hands of the Fatah movement.
The two-state slogan also serves Netanyahu. He isn’t under pressure to decide between the annexation of the West Bank and withdrawal from the occupied territories. Of course, the peace camp tries to convince the Jewish public of the need for a Palestinian state by cultivating fears of an Arab majority. Billboards are displayed showing an enraged Palestinian crowd with the caption "Tomorrow we will be the majority." Abu Mazen is burning the candle at both ends: he continues his imaginary struggle against Netanyahu, and, simultaneously, he allows the Zionist Left to nurture the false hope that they can separate from the Palestinians, preserving the Jewish and democratic character of the state in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence.
Netanyahu knows full well that Abu Mazen's situation is not brilliant. The more Netanyahu refuses to negotiate with him, the more Palestinians' trust in their president is eroded. It seems that Rabin Square is the only square where Abu Mazen can speak freely. He was disgracefully “thrown out” of Gaza Square, and, in the squares of the West Bank he only hears curses and insults. Just recently, he was cursed by the mothers of hunger-striking prisoners in Israeli jails, who claimed he was thwarting their struggle. The Labor Party, "Yesh Atid" and " Kulanu"—the bloc that is supposed to stop Netanyahu in the next elections—does not believe in an attainable solution. Like Netanyahu, they use the two-state slogan in order to seek a new interim arrangement that will last for the next 50 years. And there is still a small matter that few have considered: how do we persuade the Palestinians to agree to another interim arrangement while the three core issues - the status of Jerusalem, the settlements and the refugees - still hang in the air? However, such trivialities are ignored.
The peace camp discerns a singular "historical opportunity" and has discovered the magic of the Sunni states, which overnight changed from an enemy to a lover. No more cultivating the Maronites, Shiites, Kurds, Copts, Druze, and all those who had suffer from the heavy hand of the Sunni majority. Until now, the Sunni-Israeli alliance against Iran has failed for one reason: President Obama liked the Iranians and feared the Sunnis, especially the Sunni Wahhabism of the Gulf States.
With Trump's election, a historic opportunity became a reality as the erratic US president began his first overseas tour in Saudi Arabia. In return for a sizeable check of $400 billion, and at the request of King Salman, he put together an anti-Iran coalition. In order to cushion the new Sunni alliance and to improve its problematic image in his country, Trump has taken on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What an irony, the unbelievable has happened! Hillary Clinton was defeated and replaced by a mercurial thug, a close friend of Netanyahu, the one who cannot be refused. It is precisely Trump—a rival of Angela Merkel and the enemy of women, blacks and Muslims, a supporter of torture, a despiser of refugees, a climate change denier—who has become the messiah of Israeli peacemakers.
Trump's supporters claim that even if all the above is true, it does not contradict the fact that Trump, in order to please the Saudis and thus bring America back to its grandeur, is urging Netanyahu to make concessions to pave the way for an agreement with Abu Mazen. Therefore, the peace camp must support such a move, which is expected to lead to separation from the Palestinians. Life is full of contradictions, and history has already proved that not everything bad for the Gentiles is necessarily bad for the Jews. The fact is that Trump's emissary, Jason Greenblatt, is trying to persuade Netanyahu to transfer some of Area C to Area B, an ingenious idea that will make it appear that Israel is making concessions. The problem is that this idea was raised 20 years ago when, at the end of his first term, Netanyahu promised to move thirteen percent of Area C to the Palestinians in exchange for cancelling the Palestinian National Covenant. The Palestinians did indeed amend the charter at an impressive ceremony in Gaza in the presence of President Clinton. But Netanyahu suddenly repented and coined the phrase “If they give, they will receive. If they don't give, they won't receive,” which he still maintains to this day in various versions.
What may seem a historic opportunity to the peace camp is an anti-historical opportunity. In fact, Trump is trying to breathe life into a dying Saudi kingdom, which has seen its resources dwindle as oil prices have plummeted. The Saudi people are lazy and idle. The Arab Spring has removed most Arab dictators, and the Saudi economy is being drained by a costly and seemingly unwinnable war in Yemen. The Saudis also support radical Islamic militias in Syria. The irony is that Saudi Arabia is fighting Iran by spreading Islamic Salafi Wahhabism, al-Qaeda's incubator. It is in this arena that Trump chooses to combat terror. The alliance between the Sunni states and Trump has no chance of succeeding, not only owing to the rotten nature of the Sunni regimes, but also because Iran is essential to Trump as an ally in Iraq, in the struggle against ISIS, and in the taking of Mosul.
In light of the reality that has emerged during the 50 years of Occupation, it is time to change the diskette. Reliance on Trump, Saudi Arabia and Abu Mazen, allies of the Israeli Right, will not save the peace camp. A truly historic opportunity to find genuine peace with the Palestinians was lost when, after the Oslo Accords, the PA was invented as a substitute for an independent state. Today, we pay a heavy political price for this. After the Right has entrenched itself in power, it cannot be defeated by fear that Israel will someday have a Palestinian majority.
The way to defeat the Right is to find a true partner for building an egalitarian society in a democratic state that honors its citizens without discrimination based on nationality, religion or skin-color. The Middle East is changing, new societies will emerge from beneath the ruins of civil wars, and the benighted Arab regimes are condemned to disappear. These deep and revolutionary changes will sooner or later bring about a democratic change in Palestinian society, which will force Israeli society to change likewise.
- Translated from the Hebrew by Robert Goldman