Tag Archives: Mahmoud Abbas

Is the Palestinian Authority secular or Islamist?

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas adjusts his glasses as he listens during a joint press conference with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (not pictured), in the West Bank city of Ramallah, May 25, 2021. (photo credit: ALEX BRANDON/POOL VIA REUTERS)

Published in The Jerusalem Post.

Everyone knows Hamas is part of the Muslim Brotherhood and is a religiously-motivated Islamist organization. But what about the Palestinian Authority and President Mahmoud Abbas? The United States and its European allies continually refer to the PA leadership as secular. Is that true?

This is an important question to ask as American ideas for ending the conflict, as well as the Oslo Accords, are premised on the idea that Palestinians and Israelis will make permanent territorial concessions in a final peace agreement. This would be unlikely if the PA’s decisions are based on an Islamist perspective of land transfers, and would explain in part why the conflict is still ongoing. This is not just a theoretical question, as US President Joe Biden again called for a two-state solution in his first remarks to the UN this week.

So let’s read some of the words of Abbas addressing Palestinian university students. This is not unrepresentative of what he has been saying for a lifetime. Ask yourself; does this sound like a secular or an Islamist leader?

“In the name of Allah, the Merciful and Compassionate… Allah the Supreme spoke the truth. We will continue to stand firm and carry out Ribat [religious war for Muslim control] in Jerusalem and its surroundings until Judgment Day. Then the believers will rejoice in the victory of Allah.”

So it needs to be asked: Do the PA and the PLO – like their Hamas brethren – believe that once an Islamic entity ever controls land, it can never be considered legitimate to cede that land to infidels (even if those Jewish infidels were there first, two millennia before the Islamic conquest)? PA Abbas, PA TV, PA-sponsored mosques and media have repeatedly referred to the conflict in Islamist tones as a basis to eliminate Israel from the Islamic Waqf.

If that is true, then the western foundational principles of two states for two peoples are built on quicksand. At the very least, it is counterproductive, but more likely, it is a prescription for future intifadas. Israeli leaders are well aware of this.

In 2004, I spoke to former US president Bill Clinton about the Camp David and Taba negotiations and the need for an “end of conflict” resolution. That would mean once a document was signed between the parties, neither would have any further legal claims. Clinton said both then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and former prime minister Ehud Barak insisted upon this, but he didn’t understand why it was so important.

It is not surprising that a sophisticated person like Clinton, who was so invested in the Middle East conflict, didn’t understand this Israeli demand. It was because he did not think that the PA could have an Islamic religious basis for its geopolitical decisions. He should have been given a clue when Arafat told him that there was never a Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount, a fantasy that not only delegitimized Judaism but Christianity too.

For insight into the Islamic religiosity of the PA, listen to the words of Mahmood Al-Habbash. He is the most important religious figure in the PA, who Abbas appointed as his closest adviser on Islam and the PA’s Supreme Sharia (Islamic law) Judge.

According to Palestinian Media Watch, he tells Palestinians of the West Bank under the control of the PA that the conflict with Israel is an uncompromising religious war for Islam against Israel and Jews. Israelis/Jews are the “enemies of Muslims.” The ultimate battle described in the Quran will “lead to great destruction for the ‘Children of Israel.’ The conflict here in Palestine between us and the criminal occupation… between good and evil.” “Normalization means that you agree to natural relations with your brother’s murderers… with the enemies of Prophet Muhammad.”

Sounds pretty jihadist to me. But does the State Department read the transcripts of the PA and their appointed leaders?

This year, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, “We have to start putting in place the conditions that would allow both sides to engage in a meaningful and positive way toward two states.” It now appears that the Biden administration is pushing Israel to acquiesce to the reopening of the American consulate in East Jerusalem, which it foresees as the future capital for a Palestinian state.

If Blinken and Biden decide to dip their toes in the troubled waters of a negotiated-conflict solution, the PA’s Islamic religious predisposition should not be papered over. The PA should be seen as it is, and anyone in the administration who is genuinely looking for a lasting or sustainable solution should want that as well. Repeating the mantra of two states for two peoples won’t work if one side can never accept a Jewish state on what they perceive as once Islamic-held land.

It should become a standing American prerequisite that before the US enters into any mediation for a negotiation to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; both the Israelis and Palestinians agree that at the end of the talks, both are willing to sign an end of conflict agreement. That would end in perpetuity all claims to the territory from each other, fully accepting the legitimate rights of the other party in an internationally accepted legal document. This is also assuming they can get past the uncompromising PA demand for a “right of return” of everyone who has at least an ancestor considered as a refugee from Palestine.

If the Palestinians refuse, it exposes their genuine desire for all of the Islamic Waqf – the entirety of Israel.

According to Palestinian expert, Khaled Abu Toameh, speaking on an AIJAC webinar, the “PA has never actually looked at the Arab-Israel conflict as a dispute over land, amenable to compromise. However, their embrace of Islamism can only make any prospect of a two-state resolution even more distant and difficult.”

Better to know now than to keep repeating the same mistake again and again. Then negotiations could transition to a long-term ceasefire and focus on economically empowering the Palestinian people.
This week the State Department spokesman said the US seeks to “pave a path to negotiations.” But negotiations with what end? Can any State Department official see outside the box of their long-standing flawed foundational policy and see the PA/PLO as they are, religiously motivated, not as how they wish them to be, Westernized and secular?

Does Mahmoud Abbas Want His Legacy to be the Third Intifada?

(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post) 

He decided years ago that he cannot, or will not, accept any realistic two-state parameters that could offer Israel reasonable security.

‘America is the land of solutions. In the Middle East, sometimes there are no solutions.”

A headline in The Jerusalem Post last week read, “Abbas may halt security cooperation with Israel unless Palestine is created.” Conventional wisdom says Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ threat to end security cooperation with the IDF is simply empty rhetoric, because Abbas knows very well that without an Israel’s military presence in the West Bank, his PA security forces would be overthrown in short order.

He knows that they would likely follow the infamous path of their comrades in Gaza in 2005 after the Israeli disengagement, and be thrown off 10-story buildings by their “unity partner” Hamas. Both Israel and the PA know that the West Bank would likely become “Hamastan on the Jordan,” a security nightmare for Israel.

President Abbas knows that within a few weeks, or at most a few months, this would become a reality. But what if – this time – something is truly different, and President Abbas really is contemplating ending the security cooperation? Could Abbas have concluded that he needs to start thinking about his legacy and his place in Palestinian folklore?

He decided years ago that he cannot, or will not, accept any realistic two-state parameters that could offer Israel reasonable security, an end to the “Right of Return,” or any shared status on the Temple Mount. We know this because he never responded to prime minister Ehud Olmert’s 2007 offer of 96-98% of the West Bank, land swaps, east Jerusalem and control of the Temple Mount.

Yet America and the West, which continually pressure Israel and claim that the conflict is all about the settlements and borders, pretend that this offer never occurred. Unfortunately, not even the most critical analysis sees Abbas – or any Palestinian leader – as giving up the right of return, acquiescing to Israel’s minimum security concerns in the Jordan River Valley, or signing any end-of-conflict agreement.

So what options does Abbas really have? In America today, we debate the foreign policy legacy of President Barack Obama. Why? The president wants to be remembered for some foreign policy achievement. President Abbas also wants a legacy. His dream is not to be remembered as the man who gave up Muslim land (dar al-Islam) to the Jews, i.e. any of the land of Israel within the 1949 armistice line.

Perhaps his dream is to emulate his mentor, Yasser Arafat, and be remembered by the Palestinian people as a “freedom fighter.” He may feel he can rewrite history before his time passes, and be remembered as a hero, not as the man who presided over the failed Oslo accords and led a corrupt government that stole hundreds of millions of shekels from his own people.

Perhaps Abbas has come to the realization that even though he is in the 10th year of his four-year term, he is also entering the ninth decade of his life, and will not remain the Palestinian president forever.

Perhaps he would like to be revered in the Mukata in Ramallah, where Arafat lies. To the American Progressive organizations, and President Obama, Abbas is “moderate” and the best peacemaker Israel will ever have. As President Obama said in March of 2013: “Of course, Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with anyone who is dedicated to its destruction. But while I know you have had differences with the Palestinian Authority, I believe that you do have a true partner in President Abbas.”

It is inconceivable to these progressives that if the right deal were offered with enough territorial concessions, Abbas would not accept it. (Of course, this ignores the 2007 Olmert offer.) They say it is all about the settlements, not the destruction of Israel. They are convinced that there must be a Western- style “solution,” and it simply means removing all the settlements and ending the “oppressive occupation.”

This reveals the schizophrenia of American foreign policy. On one hand, they see the Palestinians as part of the Arab world, where Islamism is on the rise, pushing the West’s “moderate” PA to join a unity government with the Hamas terrorists. On the other hand, America expects Israel to treat the Palestinians as if they were negotiating with Canada, and to trust a Palestinian culture that sees compromise with the West as weakness, or, at best, a strategic choice.

Unfortunately, Abbas lives not in North America, but in the Muslim world, and his predisposition clearly reflects that he is not prepared to accept a Jewish presence in any part of the Levant. The West refuses to acknowledge that in 2015, “secular” Arab leaders like Abbas never will accept the concept of compromise. A good part of the reason why American foreign policy is such a disaster in the Middle East is because it fails to acknowledge that most modern Islamic analysis cannot be reconciled with our Western perspective.

American is the land of solutions. In the Middle East sometimes there are no solutions, or no solutions right now. It is Israel that pays the price because only Israel can be pressured by the United States and the West, i.e. the threat of cutting off diplomatic protection in the international arena. This is a lethal threat for a tiny nation.

Could it be that America’s foreign policy analysts are the ones who are getting it wrong? Do they fail to acknowledge that the motivation of the Palestinians and Arab peoples may be based more on their Islamic religious outlook, and not on resolving centuries- old conflicts between clans and tribes, where nation-states identity is secondary? Despite Abbas wearing a western suit and tie, his words and his people’s actions are more aligned with the unyielding Islamist demands, than with the idea of Western compromise. We are blind to the fact that over the last 20 years Muslim religiosity has replaced a more moderate secular perspective. The result is that American and many Israeli leaders can’t explain the longevity of the conflict because they are married to the idea of compromise, a value embedded in the Western world order.

If you were President Abbas and you knew that you couldn’t bring peace to your people, would you want to be remembered as the impotent corrupt leader of the PA, or would you erase your past and become known as the leader of the glorious third intifada? All of this may be moot as the Palestinian Authority may not be able to dictate events. As the Jerusalem Post reported: “The army has told the government that at any given moment the Palestinian Authority can collapse…

In one of the scenarios that the IDF presented, a small localized security incident, like an altercation between settlers and Palestinians, or the throwing of a Molotov cocktail could quickly escalate to rioting in the Galilee and the Triangle area. With the weakened Palestinian Authority a situation like this is liable to lead to terrorist organizations taking control of the West Bank.”

What should America do? Understand that the chaos of the Middle East and the weakness of the PA make this an inopportune time for final status negotiations.

America’s goal should be to convince Abbas not to start a third intifada and to help the Palestinians build the foundations of a future democracy, with rule of law, tolerance, freedom of the press, and freedom of speech.

In short, America should lead conflict management, not impose solutions where none exist.

The author is the director of MEPIN (Middle East Political and Information Network), a Middle East research analysis read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisors, members of the Knesset, journalists and organizational leaders.