A last chance for Mr. Abbas

It was reported last month that the leaders of Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates are so frustrated with the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to even consider the Middle East peace plan (currently being drawn up by the Trump administration) that they would not object if the American plan bypassed the Palestinian leadership and was presented directly to the Palestinian people.

The White House has expressed eagerness to negotiate “the ultimate deal” between the Israelis and the Palestinians – a plan which is still under wraps, and the Palestinians know little about. That fact, however, hasn’t stopped the PA from categorically rejecting any final product out of hand.

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This deliberate policy of obstruction and obfuscation is an insult to the US and the American people, who have sent hundreds of millions in hard-earned tax dollars to the PA every year for humanitarian purposes. It is also a betrayal of the Palestinian people, who suffer extreme hardship as a direct result of the reckless decision-making of the PA.

If the PA is dissatisfied with US peace efforts, the way forward is more engagement and constructive criticism, not disrespect and boycott of an initiative that enjoys widespread support in the Arab world, and beyond.

A senior Jordanian official observed that “Arab states will not be the ones to throw a wrench ‎in the wheels of the peace process, and that [Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud] Abbas’s‎ continued refusal to work with the Americans will ‎lead to a regional peace plan being launched without ‎him.”‎

As the Abbas era draws to an close and leads to increased instability in the Palestinian territories, the PA has a simple choice to make: it can be part of lasting peace, or the cause of perpetual conflict. It can help shape history or watch as history is being written without it. It can work with the US, Israel and Arab states to bring prosperity to the region, or risk widespread isolation.
Abbas, now in the 13th year of a four-year term as president, is at risk of becoming irrelevant to the future of his people. He has no electoral mandate. He will not engage with either the US or Israel. And it appears that even the Arab nations whose support he needs have grown tired of him.

During a meeting with Fatah party leaders on Sunday, Abbas vowed that Palestinian terrorists and their families will continue to receive stipends – a policy that severely undermines the standing of the Palestinians in the international arena.
In March, the US passed the Taylor Force Act that would cut off most foreign aid from the PA if it continues to pay terrorists with blood on their hands and their families. Other countries followed. Earlier this month, the Knesset voted into law a bill to slash funds to the PA by the amount Ramallah pays out to convicted terrorists and their relatives. Australia and Norway have taken similar steps to condemn the PA’s incitement of terrorism.

According to the Defense Ministry, the PA in 2017 paid $198 million to the so-called “martyrs’ families fund” and an additional $160m. to the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club – some 7% of its total budget.

Abbas claims to be a man of peace. Yet, in reality, he incites and rewards terror. How can he reverse the current situation? How can he lead his people to independence and secure a place for himself in history?

Abbas could relax his grip on Palestinian politics, cut down on corruption, and make his government more transparent. He could also relax his control over the economy and allow for the growth of a private sector. But most importantly, he must change his outlook from fostering “resistance” to Israel to encouraging cooperation with Israel.

None of this will be easy. In politics the toughest thing for a person to do is to voluntarily cede power and control. But years of resistance to compromise has failed to achieve Palestinian statehood.

US policymakers engaged in the new round of peace negotiations must make two basic stipulations. First, the PA must accept the reality that Israel is here to stay as the nation state of the Jewish people. This should be a no-brainer, but by no means is a given. Abbas in the past has publicly stated, “I will never accept a Jewish state” and “I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I will never recognize the Jewishness of the state, or a ‘Jewish state.’”

Second, no agreement can be signed until the Palestinians withhold money to terrorists. Their leadership must carry a message of peace based on facts and reality, not disseminate an ideology based on hatred and conspiracy, and certainly not on violence and incitement.

If Abbas stays the course, he will be remembered only for having sacrificed the dreams of his people for the consolidation of his own wealth and power and putting continued conflict ahead of Israeli-Palestinian peace.

By rejecting the US peace plan out of hand, Abbas and the PA for now have demonstrated yet again that they lack the courage to embrace genuine peace. Only when Palestinian leaders want their own state more than they want to destroy the Jewish state, can the mandate of 1947 – two states for two peoples – see the light of day.

The writer is CEO and president of The Israel Project.