Netanyahu Versus Abbas
May 31, 2011 | Barry Rubin
“We cannot negotiate with those who say, ‘What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is negotiable.'” – US President John F. Kennedy
Read Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the US Congress on May 23. Both on regional issues and the Israeli-Palestinian question he was quite clear. His speech was vastly superior to those by Obama a few days earlier not just because of the policy content but because he deals with regional realities that the President ignored or just got wrong.
But I want to talk about a remarkable juxtaposition that no one else seems to have noticed. If you understand this article, you can understand all of the problems of the Middle East. If you don’t, please go mess up the lives of people elsewhere.
To set up this point I must first quote extensively from Netanyahu’s speech. He said:
This is the land of our forefathers, the Land of Israel, to which Abraham brought the idea of one God, where David set out to confront Goliath, and where Isaiah saw a vision of eternal peace. No distortion of history can deny the 4,000 year old bond, between the Jewish people and the Jewish land.
But there is another truth: The Palestinians share this small land with us. We seek a peace in which they will be neither Israel’s subjects nor its citizens. They should enjoy a national life of dignity as a free, viable and independent people in their own state. They should enjoy a prosperous economy, where their creativity and initiative can flourish.
So this is a classic Western – indeed a classic liberal Western – formulation. We have our rights but we also respect your rights. Let’s find a win-win situation that benefits everyone.
They [the Palestinians] were simply unwilling to end the conflict. And I regret to say this: They continue to educate their children to hate. They continue to name public squares after terrorists. And worst of all, they continue to perpetuate the fantasy that Israel will one day be flooded by the descendants of Palestinian refugees.
In a moment, we’ll see Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas prove Netanyahu’s first sentence to be true.
My friends, this must come to an end. President Abbas must do what I have done. I stood before my people, and I told you it wasn’t easy for me, and I said… “I will accept a Palestinian state.” It is time for President Abbas to stand before his people and say… “I will accept a Jewish state.”
Remember that challenge.
Those six words will change history. They will make clear to the Palestinians that this conflict must come to an end. That they are not building a state to continue the conflict with Israel, but to end it. They will convince the people of Israel that they have a true partner for peace. With such a partner, the people of Israel will be prepared to make a far reaching compromise. I will be prepared to make a far reaching compromise.
In other words, once the Palestinians really acknowledge – which they have not done – the Jewish connection to the land, Israel will know they are a partner for peace and make more compromises.
Now, here’s the part nobody noticed. Abbas effectively answered Netanyahu!
In a major speech for “Naqba Day,” that is the Palestinian day of mourning that Israel was ever created in the first place, Abbas said:
We say to him [Netanyahu], when he claims – that they [Jews] have a historical right dating back to 3,000 years [BC] – we say that the nation of Palestine upon the land of Canaan had a 7,000 year history [BC]. This is the truth, which must be understood and we have to note it, in order to say: ‘Netanyahu, you are incidental in history. We are the people of history. We are the owners of history.’
Do you understand?
Netanyahu said: We have rights; you have rights. We recognise yours and when you recognise ours we can have peace. Your refusal to recognise our rights – to demand total victory for yourself (which means Israel’s disappearance) – makes peace impossible.
And here is how Abbas (whose name cannot appear in the Western media without the word “moderate” being attached to him) answered:
Well, we don’t recognise that you have any rights. All the rights belong to us! You are just a passing breeze that will become extinct and you are of no importance.
So that’s the bottom line. Even in the year 2011 – as happened in the year 1948 – even a relative moderate like Abbas simply cannot bring himself to say in Arabic: “Let’s share this land in a two-state solution.”
Ironically, Netanyahu is taking a liberal and flexible position while Abbas is taking a reactionary, imperialistic stance. Talk about accepting the “other”!
And yet not a single professor in any university class, not a single journalist or expert in the mass media will raise or even report that point. President Obama won’t pick up on it to chide the Palestinians. Nobody will start calling Netanyahu moderate and peace-seeking while saying that Abbas is extremist and peace-rejecting.
Nevertheless, what simpler and more graphic example could anyone want?
Now you know why peace is impossible. It isn’t because Israel won’t go back to the 1967 borders. It’s because the Palestinian leadership still believes and tells its people that Israel has no right to exist.
Abbas’ history is of course rubbish. There is no connection between ancient Canaanites – who don’t go back anywhere near that far – and modern Arabs. Since the Canaanites weren’t Muslims, Abbas is acting as a pure opportunist since no Arab nation accepts such pre-Islamic connections any way.
Abbas has told us everything we need to know about who doesn’t want peace. And here’s the reality of the Palestinian Authority position (not to mention that of its partner, Hamas): if you can’t have peace without accepting Israel’s permanent existence, then it is better not to have peace at all.