الرئيسية » هاني المصري »   14 نيسان 2016

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هاني المصري

“I decided to write this article after viewing President Mahmoud ‘Abbas’s interview with Israeli Channel 2 in its entirety,” writes Hani al-Masri in the leading Palestinian daily al-Ayyam.

The interview was closer to an interrogation than a dialogue with the press. The president appeared to be standing in the dock defending himself. He guaranteed that he would assume full responsibility if the Israeli forces were to commit not to forcefully enter Palestinian cities. And he asked ‘for just one single week,’ [of respite] adding that if he does not succeed, ‘Israeli forces can return, and [PM] Binyamin Netanyahu can have the PA all to himself.’ And he said that ‘the PA is on the brink of collapse,’ and warned of ‘chaos’ if security cooperation between the PA and Israel were to stop.

I turned matters over in my head and looked at them from various angles. I wondered: What is driving the president to wage a broad campaign to win Israeli public opinion over that has included being blessed by a Jewish rabbi, endless meetings with various Israeli groups, sending tens of representatives, including a PLO Executive Committee member and a Fateh Central Council member to offer condolences for the death of an Israeli occupation general [Brigadier-General Munir Amar, the head of Israeli army’s West Bank civil administration and one of the highest ranking Israeli Druze officers] who is responsible for the occupation’s crimes, and who betrayed his people and sect by joining the occupation army?

What is pushing the president to describe the Israeli justice system, whose main function is to serve the settler-colonial project, as ‘fair’?

Why did the president adopt those positions in the interview with journalist Ilana Dayan? Why did he equate victim with executioner by saying that ‘both sides’ were engaged in incitement, that both nations want peace and are humane, and that crimes such as the execution of [Palestinian assailant shot on the ground while wounded] ‘Abdelfattah Sharif are exceptions?

Why did he stress that ‘the Palestinian security forces are searching student’s bags in one school, where they found seventy knives’? What was the point of stressing this, since such a statement justifies the crimes committed by the hordes of fully armed settlers, if only indirectly? (There are 380 thousand armed settlers, in addition to hundreds of thousands of occupation army troops).

 Did the entire world not see what happened with the Palestinian martyr ‘Abdelfattah Sharif, who was killed as he lay wounded on the ground unable to move, and after an Israeli officer had ascertained that he was not wearing an explosive belt?

It is certain that what is leading the president to do all this is his belief that he can thereby affect Israeli society and serve the Palestinian people.

But has he succeeded in doing so?

Before answering this question, we have to note that the president has long held a deep conviction that dialogue, negotiations, breaking the psychological barrier in the conflict, communicating to the Israelis the sort of relative justice that the majority of Palestinians want, and offering concessions in order to achieve that aim, provide the sole path to achieve a two-state solution and bring about peace.

In fact, the entire [1993] Oslo Accord was based on this notion that oversimplifies the conflict and ignores the settler-colonial and racist nature of the Zionist project that aims to expel the Palestinians. It ignores the privileges that the Jews enjoy because of the occupation. It also ignores Israel's role as an agent [of the West] in the region. It imagines that dialogue and proof that the Palestinians are ready to offer the required concessions will be enough to encourage the Israelis to do the same, as a result of which peace can be achieved.

What was the result after the Palestinian side, in order to end the occupation, unilaterally fulfilled its commitments to the [2003] Roadmap and adopted the plan to create state institutions and prove its competence under occupation? Did Israeli society become ready for peace after all these efforts, or did it become even more extremist, racist, aggressive, and move further away from peace?

Israel’s denial of the Palestinians' rights and its failure to implement the Oslo Accords despite their faults, have led the president to admit over the past six years that his wager on negotiations has failed – or, as he likes to say, that the Oslo Accords were foiled. This has led him to threaten to resign and hand over the PA's keys [to Israel], and has produced the PLO's Central Committee's decisions – that remain 'mere ink on paper' – calling for an end to the Palestinians’ unilateral commitment to the Oslo Accords, insisting that relations with Israel should change from being that of a peace partner to that of an occupied people and occupying power.

In fact, the only result of all this Palestinian 'moderation,' was that Netanyahu's government revived the plan to establish 'Greater Israel.' It erased the [1967] Green Line, turned the conflict into a religious one, abandoned the two-state solution, and went far in pursuit of its policies of ethnic cleansing, Judaizing and Israeli-zing Jerusalem, home demolitions, and aggressions against the Gaza Strip coupled with its continued siege. It has also drafted plans to increase the number of settlers to one million within a few years.

It may be sufficient to cite the results of some recent polls that have shown that the problem does not stem from the presence of an extremist Israeli government, but from the fact that Israeli society is extremist and that its internal division is no longer between right and left (even by Zionist standards of that division), but between the right and the extreme right.

The situation is so bad that some have demanded that Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon be killed because he tried to defend Israel's image by denouncing the soldier who killed ash-Sharif in broad daylight and in cold blood, presenting it as an atypical incident. We have also noted that the majority of Israelis have supported their government in its wars against the Gaza Strip, demanding that they should be pursued.

The latest polls have shown that 76% of Israelis were opposed to the detention of Sharif's murderer. They supported the racist edict issued by the Chief [Sephardic] Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef that called for the Palestinians to be expelled to Saudi Arabia. 57% of Israelis also said that there was no need to detain or interrogate the soldier, while 42% said Sharif’s killing while incapacitated was a responsible act.

Last month, the American PEW Research Center published the results of a poll it carried out in Israel. It showed that 50% of Israeli Jews support the expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland, while 79% support racial discrimination against the 1948 Palestinians [citizens of Israel]. Moreover, led by such figures as Naftali Bennet, the Education Minister who boasts of the number of Palestinians he has killed, and Avigdor Lieberman, who urged the government to throw Palestinian detainees in the sea, the Israeli public has demanded the release of Sharif's murderer, which in turn, has led the Israeli PM to back down from his previous position in which he denounced the murder.

As usual, and with the exception of a few political and media voices, Israel’s reaction to the PA president's current campaign was to disregard what he has said and done. As for the government and majority of Israelis, they demanded more of the same because – as President 'Abbas himself said in his interview – they want him as their agent and not as their partner.

Hanan Crystal, a commentator on Israeli Radio, urged the PA president to stop wagering on public opinion in Israel because of its continuous rightwards shift. He asked 'Abbas to rest for 'even if he were to present Israel with the heads of Hamas and Jihad leaders on a silver platter and even if he were to join the Likud Executive Committee, that would change nothing in the views of Israelis.'

As for [former senior Israeli military official] Yossi Kupperwasser, he wrote in Haaretz that the president’s words were no good because he did not convince the delegation of Jews from Arab countries who visited him: 'Why does he not condemn the perpetrators of the terror attacks instead of mouthing platitudes about how we are all human beings, and why he does not even say this in Arabic to his own people? … Why does he speak of a two-state solution, but not about two states for two peoples, and why he repeatedly uses the phrase 'the Israeli people' and never 'the Jewish people'?' And he adds: 'Abbas does not deviate one iota from the Palestinian narrative that underpins the knife terror'; moreover, 'his story about the PA’s efforts to convince Palestinian youngsters in the school not to carry out stabbing attacks … and how in one of the schools 70 students had knives in their backpacks with which they were planning to stab Jews… shows that Abbas believes in his ability to rein in the phenomenon, if not end it completely, [which] raises the question of why he has only now decided to do something about it.'

All the above demonstrates that concessions do not encourage the Israelis to offer anything similar in return. On the contrary, they whet their appetite for further and bigger concessions on the Palestinians' part. This is the fruit that the supporters of Oslo and bilateral negotiations and the advocates of dialogue, normalization, and contact groups have yielded– so much so that they now speak of 'incitement on both sides,' disregarding the fact that occupation itself represents the height of incitement that cannot in any way be compared to Palestinian 'incitement.' In fact, the mere formation of a committee to end 'mutual incitement' represents a grave insult to the Palestinian people's struggles, sacrifices, and legitimate resistance.

This entire policy needs to be subjected to an overall review. It has produced nothing but failure. It has only led Israel to further extremism. We have seen how the talks to prevent the Israeli army form forcibly entering the PA areas classified as 'A' in return for refraining from implementing the Central Committee's resolutions have yielded no results. These talks ended with Netanyahu’s decision that the army's freedom of action in all areas was sacred. And this means that the PA is now in a very awkward and difficult position. How will it emerge from it this time round? How will it justify the non-implementation of the Central Committee's resolutions?

There is no alternative but to abandon the wager on negotiations and changing Israeli public opinion via dialogue, concessions, and reliance on domestic factors inside Israel. The real wager should be on activating the Palestinian people's elements of strength instead. Foremost among them is giving priority to ending the internal [Fatah/Hamas] split and regaining Palestinian unity, and consolidating the factors that are conducive to steadfastness and resistance. This should all come within a single national and strategic framework that can raise the cost of the occupation and benefit from the contradictions within Israel, because it is possible to forge alliances with those elements that are opposed to racist settler colonialism.

"For Israel will not change from within, but only from pressure from the outside," concludes Masri.