Ori Nir
Americans For Peace Now (Blog)
October 27, 2011 - 12:00am

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said this week that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas should leave his post soon and that "anyone who replaces (Abbas) will be better than he is." Lieberman called Abbas "an obstacle to peace."

The firebrand foreign minister was talking about the same Abbas who Prime Minister Netanyahu called "my partner in peace," the same Abbas who Israel's President Shimon Peres recently characterized as "the best (Palestinian) leader we will work with," the same Abbas who former Shin Bet director Yuval Diskin this week called a "statesman."
I don't know what's worse: Lieberman's despicable statement, the fact that Prime Minister Netanyahu did not immediately dissociate himself from his foreign minister's diatribe, or the fact that the Obama administration did not publicly demand an official Israeli repudiation. Just imagine the outcry if a senior Palestinian cabinet member said similar things about Prime Minister Netanyahu.

What I do know however is that dismissing, humiliating and rejecting Abbas as a partner is terribly irresponsible. Not only because Abbas is a pragmatic, moderate man of peace but also because his political demise means a victory for Palestinian extremists. If you don't take Abbas, you'll get Hamas.

It's not just me saying it. Following the Shalit prisoner exchange deal earlier this month, which significantly strengthened Hamas, Israel's leading security officials reportedly urged the government to make some gestures to Abbas in order to strengthen him and his Palestinian Authority and in order to offset some of Hamas' popularity surge. Israel's top brass is concerned that further erosion in Abbas' standing and popularity might impact the robust security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and might eventually lead to the collapse of the PA.

We have written in the past about the extent of the security cooperation and its importance for keeping a low level of anti-Israeli terrorism in the past four years. Former Shin Bet chief Diskin said this week: "Since 2007, [the Palestinian Authority] in the West Bank has made great efforts to fight terrorism. As someone who was involved for many years in what was happening there, from 1993, I don't remember a time during which the Palestinians have fought terrorism as seriously as they are today."

Dov Weissglass, who was Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's bureau chief and served as Sharon's chief negotiator, this week wrote in Yedioth Ahronoth: "In the bloody Israeli-Palestinian history, the Palestinian Authority in its current composition is the best one that we have ever known (both for Israel and for the Palestinians). Among other things, this is demonstrably the case by the five years of almost complete quiet, stability and economic prosperity. One can probably assume that the Netanyahu government, despite the fact that it is not particularly enamored with the Palestinian Authority, would not prefer to see a Hamas regime replace it in Judea and Samaria."

Weissglass continued, "The Israeli government must immediately rehabilitate the intimate channels of dialogue with the Palestinians that have been lost (communication continued to exist even in the worst days of combat). Israel must act immediately to strengthen the Palestinian Authority by releasing prisoners, developing infrastructure, easing economic restrictions, simplifying movement, freezing construction outside the settlement blocs and, mainly, by investing every effort courageously into renewing the negotiations. Israel and the Palestinian Authority share an identical interest: the existence of a strong PA and a Palestinian public that prefers its path over Hamas's."

Netanyahu is obviously aware of this mutual interest. He knows that Israeli-Palestinian relations are not a zero-sum game, that he and Abbas have solid common ground, security-related, which they cannot afford to lose. And this applies not only to counterterrorism efforts in Israel and the West Bank. It applies also to Israel's ability to maintain a security edge vis-à-vis more ominous foes. This week, an Israeli newspaper revealed that because of Netanyahu's intransigence on peace, Germany is reconsidering its decision to sell Israel six submarines, which Israel was intending to arm with nuclear missiles.

To a large extent, the future face of the West Bank and Israel's relations with it are for Netanyahu to determine. If he deepens his adversarial relationship with Abbas, he will end up with Hamas. I would like to think that this is not what he wants. I know that this is not what most Israelis want. If Netanyahu doesn't serve his people by empowering his partner in peace, if he doesn't engage with him, if he doesn't engage with Palestinians who would talk to him, Netanyahu will be stuck with those who won't.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017