Monday, January 22, 2018

Palestinians in race against time - Prof. Eyal Zisser

by Prof. Eyal Zisser

Abbas can wait forlornly for an impartial mediator and a just peace based on his and Europe's worldview, but he will not find a better broker than Trump.

For many years, the Arabs believed that in all aspects of their struggle against Israel time was on their side and all they had to do was wait for victory over Israel to eventually fall into their laps.

But the majority of Arab states, the first among them Egypt under former President Anwar Sadat, have come to understand that time is actually on Israel's side and that every day that passes without peace prevents them from treating their problems at home and ultimately inches them, not Israel, closer to social and economic ruin.

The Palestinians, and we must admit quite a few Israelis along with them, have steadfastly held to the belief that the passing of time without a peace agreement works against Israel, and that thus it was to their advantage to avoid making tough decisions and painful concessions for the sake of peace in the hopes that Israel would blink or collapse first, or that the international community would force Israel to accept the Palestinian position.

U.S. President Donald Trump's efforts, buoyed by Egypt and even Saudi Arabia, to think outside the box and try to dismantle some of the landmines blocking the path to peace – such as the Jerusalem question – has thrown Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas off balance and undermined his faith that all he has to do is wait, until the end of time if need be, for the conflict to be resolved according to his demands.

Abbas' response was to declare diplomatic war on the United States under Trump. In doing so, however, he is squandering an opportunity that likely will not reappear, to entrust the diplomatic process to the only player who can move such a process forward. Abbas can cry his crocodile tears on the EU's shoulders, but the only country that can truly help the Palestinians, and which in actuality has helped them more than anyone else to this point (diplomatically and financially), is the United States.

The U.S. is not an unbiased mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and probably never will be, despite the fact that a contingent of administration officials has traditionally leaned toward favoring the Palestinians. But who said peace agreements are solely dependent on unbiased mediators? The majority of peace deals the world has seen, particularly ones that led to true peace and stability, were not predicated on the perception of some universal justice and were not helped along by an impartial broker. In most cases, successful peace accords were based on common interests and their preservation.

For that matter, is Russian President Vladimir Putin an equitable arbiter? Putin has rather successfully spearheaded a process to restore quiet and stability in Syria, but it certainly does not bring justice to the hundreds of thousands of Syrians killed in the country's civil war, to the millions of forced refugees, or to the rebel groups he furiously pummeled into accepting his authority and mediation opposite Syrian dictator Bashar Assad.

Abbas can wait forlornly for an impartial mediator and a just peace based on his and Europe's worldview, but he will not find a better broker than Trump. To be sure, any deal he squanders today because it fails to meet the Palestinians' minimum criteria will be offered to him in the future – or perhaps not at all – under far worse conditions.

Instead, though, Abbas would rather regurgitate the doctoral thesis he wrote at Moscow State University in the early 1980s claiming ties between the Nazis and Zionist movement. Abbas renounced much of that research after the Oslo Accords were signed, but the claim he made last week, that the Zionist enterprise is colonialist, illuminates his desire to re-embrace past assertions.

It's possible that Abbas, similar to his predecessor Yasser Arafat, prefers clinging to the status quo and wants to evade making tough, courageous and almost assuredly unpopular decisions. In doing so, however, he is not acting in the best interests of the region and certainly not the best interests of his own people.

Still, Abbas is better for the Palestinians than Hamas. Indeed, if anything can be gleaned from the example of Islamic State's apparent demise, extremism can be compelling and even pose deterrence, but at the end of the day it leads to the destruction of those who follow in its footsteps.

Prof. Eyal Zisser is a lecturer in the Department of Middle East History at Tel Aviv University


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