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Netanyahu & Abbas Talk Past Each Other At the UN

Bibi Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas addressing the general debate of the General Assembly’s seventy-first session.


At this week's UN General Assembly session, Israel's Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, poured on the rhetoric but ignored the two key elements at the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They both stuck to two straight lines in the war of words and we all know that straight lines almost never meet, except in outer space. And until the two leaders start talking in the same plane there will be no peace. Leading off the debate, Abbas actually refused to come to terms with the idea of a Jewish state while Bibi glossed over the Israeli occupation of the West Bank (Judea & Samaria).

First take the demand, by Abbas, that Britain apologize for the Balfour Declaration of Nov.2, 1917 issued by the British Foreign Secretary Lord Arthur James Balfour:

      '... His Majesty's Government views with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people...'

What does this reveal about the mind-set of the Palestinian leader? You request an apology when something wrong or unjust has been perpetrated. In this case Abbas blames Lord Arthur James Balfour and the Brits who recognized the Jewish people and their right to a homeland- state. Abbas rejects this on two counts: first the Jews are not a people but a religion and religions are not entitled to states (except in the Arab world). In the opinion of Dr Abbas (Phd in Holocaust Denial from a Soviet institution) there is no rhyme or reason why the Jews should have their own state in their ancient homeland. While the Palestinians demand the right of self-determination, he denies the same right for the Jews. And that is why Abbas demands an apology for the 'catastrophes, miseries, and injustice' unleashed by the Brits nearly one hundred years ago, when there was not even a mention of the Arab Palestinian people. The historian Abbas rejects the fact that the Jewish people founded a state of their own over three thousand years ago and from there they were expelled by brutal invaders.

Again, if the Palestinians had accepted the UN Partition Plan of 1947 dividing the British mandate into two separate homelands, the Palestinians would not have suffered those 'miseries'. By harping on this fundamental issue, Abbas only arouses the ire of Israeli moderates.

General Assembly Hall at the start of the Assembly’s seventy-first annual general debate.

Until Palestinian leaders come to terms with a Jewish state there is little chance of reaching a final agreement. Look at the most recent history. When Egypt's President Anwar Sadat and Jordan's King Hussein realized that Israel was here to stay, they also understood it was in their interest to end the conflict, and they found a willing partner in Israel. Granted, the idea of the Jewish state was not specifically referred to in the peace accords but it was self-understood. Neither Sadat nor Hussien demanded the right of return for millions of Palestinian descendants who either fled or were forced to leave after the Palestinians joined the combined Arab armies bent on perpetrating a 'Mongol' massacre of the Jews. (When the tiny Jewish population threw back the combined Arab armies the Palestinians called it their 'nakba' catastrophe.)

Again when Israeli moderates hear the bellicose declarations of Abbas they can't help but suspect the Palestinian leader is simply trying to mobilize the UN to force Israel back to the old lines of 1967, without recognizing the Jewish state or making peace. The same lines once referred to by the late Abba Eban as the 'Auschwitz lines'. Rather than harping on the British apology nonsense, Abbas should get serious like Sadat and Hussein did. This means also telling his people 'No more war with Israel! We will live in peace with her!' What if he took up Bibi's offer to go to the Knesset while also insisting the Jewish state withdraw from nearly all the West bank as it already has from Gaza. But why should a majority of Israelis take Abbas seriously when he continually harps on the idea that Lord Balfour and the Brits were mistaken and the Jews are not entitled to a state of their own.

Now there are many indignant Israelis who ask if we need the recognition of Mahmoud Abbas that we are a Jewish state. It is necessary for this message from the leader to filter down into the Palestinians' kindergartens, schools and universities to replace the rampant condemnation against Israel. Only then will a critical mass of Palestinians be ready to make the required compromises for peace. But to Abbas and his supporters everywhere I would say this: It is an undeniable historic fact that the Jews are an ancient people who can trace their roots back to their homeland back over more than three thousand years. How many of the 193 UN member states can do that? How many of their citizens could have an imaginary meeting with one of their ancestors of other three-thousand years ago and actually converse with him or her because they speak the very same language. Or how many can read the ancient texts of their ancestors, the Old Testament is also in Hebrew. And how many of them practice the same religion. Speaking of which, while the Jews, those 'stubborn and stiff-necked people' suffered almost unbearable persecution and annihilation through the ages they still remained faithful to the vow of 'Next year in Jerusalem!' And always along their way they contributed to civilization in exceptional ways - Jesus was a Jew and Abraham the father of Ish-ma-el (man of the Almighty in Hebrew). And on and on - from Albert Einstein to Sigmund Freud who were not religious but considered themselves to be Jews. (This was confirmed By Nazi Germany which exhaustedly researched the question!). In just about every field of human endeavor, members of the Jewish people have contributed, as witnessed by the amazing number of Nobel Prize laureates. So why the Hell do we need the recognition of Dr Mahmoud Abbas (PhD in Holocaust Denial from a Soviet Institution). Of course we don’t, but here's the point - as long as Abbas has the temerity to tell the world and his own people that the Jews are not entitled to self-determination he is telling them that Israel is an injustice that one day they will fix this once and for all. Meanwhile they should let him keep fighting the Jews through diplomatic pressure at the UN, this will be more effective than terrorism which arouses international criticism.

But if Abbas again attacked the very idea of a 'Jewish state', Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu ignored another big elephant at the UN General Assembly - Israel's 'occupation' of the West Bank. And while Bibi says he supports a two-state solution he does the opposite by building in West Bank settlements, on land that would be designated for a future Palestinian state. Saying one thing and doing the other in the Middle East may work if you are Barack Obama or Vladimir Putin, but not if you're Prime Minister of Israel. It won't wash with the international community. Netanyahu invited Abbas to visit to visit the Knesset but to do what exactly? When all is said and done Israel holds nearly all the cards in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. It used to be called the Arab-Israeli conflict but now many Arab countries are warming up to Israel like Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. This happened after they saw the U.S. pull out of the region and cut a dubious nuclear deal with their bitter enemy Iran. Add to this the threat posed by Daesh and the Russian incursion in to Syria. And although Jerusalem already enjoys strong ties with Cairo and Amman failure to advance on the Palestinian track will impede progress with the other Arab states.

So what should Bibi do at this juncture? It is also a fact that Israel holds most of the cards by controlling the West Bank. What if Bibi put something on the table - say another settlement freeze in areas outside of Jerusalem and the settlement blocs? He did so in the past but Abbas refused to come to the table. It would send a positive signal not only to the Palestinians, but also to the Arab states and the rest of the world. So, why not do it again and put pressure on Abbas. Granted it would enrage the settlers, many in his own Likud party as well as his coalition partners. But Bibi insists that settlements are not the problem, only the latest Palestinian excuse to avoid direct peace talks with Israel - Abbas prefers an imposed agreement that would favor the Palestinians and be slanted against Israel.

Against this logjam, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak has met quietly with Tzipi Livni a prominent member of the Zionist Camp-Labor party in New York. Livni has been talking about the need to form a united Centrist-Left body wing juggernaut. However Yesh Atid Leader Yair Lapide, who is leading Netanyahu in the polls as choice for PM, insists on going it alone against Bibi.

At present the Israeli public is split down the middle. While many Israelis fear that the two- state solution is slowly disappearing for many of the reasons cited. This could spell the end of the Zionist dream and eventually turn Israel into either a bi-national state that would include Palestinian residents of the West Bank with equal rights, or an unthinkable apartheid state. On the other hand, after the Abbas speech in the UN General Assembly other Israelis feel there really isn’t a peace partner that is ready to negotiate. They have lost all hope the Palestinians will accept a Jewish state whether Israel stops settlement building or whatever. They note correctly that ever sense Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, Hamas took control and used the territory for launching rockets at Israel. Everyone told us then about 'territory for peace' instead it turned into 'territory for terror'. Who can say it would not happen again if Israel pulled out of the West Bank. In their view they think like Bibi that the only option is to hunker down, keep our powder dry and to build on ties with Turkey, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia so as to ride out the political storm at the UN. Meanwhile there are other grave threats such as Iran going nuclear or a worsening of attacks from the Golan Heights.




David Essing

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