Abbas's burden of proof
There was a distinct feeling of deja vu from 1994 in the air this week. Back
then, Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak saved the international community from
embarrassment by physically forcing Yasser Arafat to sign the Gaza-Jericho
agreement on live television.
This week, Mubarak sent the commander of his intelligence service to repeat the performance. General Omar Sulieman came to Ramallah on Tuesday and literally forced Arafat to meet with his deputy, Dr. Mahmoud Abbas, and accept Abbas's cabinet.
As in 1994, the US and Europe heaved a collective sigh of relief at Egypt's
manhandling of Arafat. The question is whether Arafat's seeming capitulation
now will prove as fraudulent as his behavior then.
When last June US President George W. Bush called on the Palestinian people
to reject the regime of PLO chief Arafat and to elect leaders 'not
compromised by terror,' he underscored the necessity of a complete overhaul
of the way the Palestinians perceive their national identity.
No longer could the Palestinians conceive of their nationalism as something
that must necessarily supplant Jewish nationalism in order to reach
fruition. Rather, a new group of leaders was called on to rise up who would
understand that the realization of Palestinian aspirations can come about
only after the Palestinians accept Israel's right to exist as the Jewish
Today, responding to British pressure, the Bush administration stands poised
to preside over new talks between the Israeli government and the PLO under
the nascent leadership of Abbas, Arafat's deputy of four decades. The
announced aim of these talks is the speedy establishment of a Palestinian
But before any such talks begin it is vital that all concerned parties, but
especially Israel, pause a moment and consider the reason for Oslo's abject
The Oslo process was predicated on a set of false assumptions. The primary
assumption was that the PLO, an organization founded with the expressed aim
of destroying Israel, no longer sought our liquidation. Instead, what we
found with Arafat's rejection of Ehud Barak's offer at Camp David is that
the PLO had not changed. Not only would Arafat not yield the Palestinians'
so-called 'right of return,' he also denied that the Jewish people have any
historic and legal claims to Jerusalem.
And for this stand he received a hero's welcome by the Palestinians upon his
return to Gaza after the summit.
The Oslo process also posited that the PLO had forsworn its armed struggle
for the destruction of the State of Israel. Yet Arafat himself formed the
Aksa Martyr's Brigades, which as Thursday's suicide bombing shows, is still
actively conducting terrorist operations against Israelis. Then, too, even
before the Palestinian Authority launched its terrorist war against Israel
in September 2000, its security services never made any sustained effort to
destroy Hamas or Islamic Jihad terror infrastructures. To the contrary, PA
military commanders like Col. Muhammad Dahlan embraced Hamas leaders like
Muhammad Deif. Already back in September 1996, Arafat showed that he had no
compunction about using the weapons Israel had given him to fight terrorism
to kill Israelis.
Finally, the Oslo agreement wrongly assumed that the PLO could be trusted to
abide by its signed commitments to Israel. It could not. From allowing the
free flow of sewage into riverbeds streaming into Israel to amassing
arsenals of prohibited armaments to registering tens of thousands of
vehicles stolen from Israelis, the Palestinian Authority breached every
single commitment it made to Israel at the negotiating table.
Now we are told that all of this is passe, because under the Abbas's
leadership the Palestinian Authority is reformed. We are told that Arafat,
who this week was feted by the entire international community in an effort
to have him accept Abbas's proposed cabinet - a cabinet that looks almost
exactly like Arafat's cabinet - no longer holds influence over what happens
in the Palestinian Authority.
Yet even if we accept the dubious assertion that Arafat is now neutralized,
we still must ask ourselves the question, why would Abbas be any different?
Abbas received his doctorate in 1983 from Moscow's Oriental University.
There his dissertation topic was 'The Secret Relationship between Nazism and
Zionism.' In his dissertation, which was adapted into a book published in
Jordan in 1984, Abbas argued that, as opposed to what is commonly believed,
'even fewer than a million Jews' were murdered by the Nazis.
He further argued that the gas chambers were not used to kill people but
rather to disinfect them and to burn bodies to prevent the flow of disease.
Abbas claimed that Hitler did not decide to kill the Jews until David
Ben-Gurion provoked him into doing so by 'declaring war on the Nazis' in
1942. It was the Zionist conspirators, Abbas explains, who created the myth
of six million murdered Jews in order to force the world to accept the
establishment of Israel.
To date, neither the Israeli government nor Abbas's main champion, German
Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, have asked him to retract his statements
of Holocaust denial.
Then too, the US plan to base new rounds of negotiations with an Abbas-led
PA on the Quartet's 'road map' has never taken into account Abbas's
expressed agreement with the maximalist Palestinian demands set out by
Arafat at the Camp David summit. In an interview with Kul al Arab radio in
August 2000, Abbas said of the Palestinian demand for the 'right of return,'
'It is only natural that each refugee return to his home.' In the same
interview he also directly threatened Israel, stating that if Israel does
not accept the Palestinian demands, 'We will open up the records of the past
and demand the country in which they live' - that is, pre-1967 Israel. He
also stated that he does not believe that Solomon's Temple ever existed in
A year later, in an interview with the PA's Al-Ayyam newspaper, Abbas
explained why any flexibility in the Palestinian demands toward Israel is
unacceptable. 'When a Palestinian says that we have missed an opportunity or
a tempting or a beneficial offer [by rejecting Barak's offers at Camp David
and Taba] it weakens the Palestinian position since [consequently] the
Americans and Israelis say, 'Here is a Palestinian who agrees with our
position.' Such things, unfortunately hurt the Palestinian position.'
So much, then, for Abbas's alleged moderation. Then there are the claims
that Abbas, unlike the rest of the PA, is untainted by corruption. Yet both
Abbas and his Security Minister-designate Dahlan are some of the
Palestinians most associated with PA corruption. Both men made a fortune
from kick-backs from the cement monopolies in Gaza. For years, photographers
were prohibited from taking pictures of the multi-million dollar villas in
Gaza both men financed by bilking the public trough.
Abbas has also shown that his Soviet education rubbed off on him. Speaking
of reforms in May 2002, Abbas explained that the reforms need to take
economic power away from Palestinian civilians and transfer all power to the
Palestinian Authority. Abbas argued then that a necessary reform would
involve preventing international NGOs from distributing monies directly to
Palestinian NGOs. All those funds, he argued, must be transferred to the PA,
the sole organization responsible for deciding how it should be apportioned.
It is true that in some recent statements, Abbas has argued that the PA's
terror war against Israel did not serve the national aspirations of the
Palestinian people. But these sort of statements, while encouraging, should
be seen for what they are: an argument about tactics, not strategy,
certainly not morality. They are not denunciations of terrorism per se, only
of terrorism that doesn't work. Together with his record of as anti-Semitic
ideologue of the Palestinian 'revolution,' it ought to be enough to dampen
anyone's enthusiasm for Abbas as an improvement over Arafat.
Learning the lessons of Oslo means placing the full burden of proof on the
Palestinians. Abbas, not Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, must be challenged to
show that he wishes to make concessions for peace. He must be challenged to
recant his denials of the Holocaust. He must be called to accept
Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. He must forswear his insistence
on the 'right of return.' He must be called on to accept publicly the
existence of the Jewish people whose national, spiritual and political roots
are in Jerusalem.
None of this is meant to humiliate Abbas. After all, no one believes that
Sharon is humiliating himself when he says he will accept the establishment
of a Palestinian state. Rather, all of this is necessary to ensure that not
only will a peace deal be reached, but that the peace will hold. If we
learned anything from the past three years it must be this: Unless the
Palestinian Authority under Abbas is actually willing to abide by the
commitments taken on by the PLO a decade ago, there is no point in cheering
his rise, no reason to negotiate anything with him, and certainly no reason
to sigh in relief that Arafat again has done Mubarak's bidding.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.