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Fact Sheets: Mahmoud Abbas is the Obstacle to Peace

(Updated May 2016)

Critics of Israel repeatedly argue that the government has no interest in peace and continues to place obstacles in the path of two-state solution. Israel’s leaders deny this and maintain they would sit down anytime, anywhere to negotiate a resolution to the dispute with the Palestinians that would create a Palestinian state beside Israel. The problem, Israelis say, is they have no Palestinian partner who is interested in discussing peace. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is putatively the interlocutor, and he is often called a partner by optimists willing to overlook the hostile actions of Palestinians under his control and his boycott of talks for the duration of the Obama administration. On these pages, we will document the activities by Palestinians that have led Israelis to believe they have no partner for peace.

The Palestinians

  • Three Palestinians were interrogated why they consorted with “murders [sic] of babies” and arrested by the Palestinian Authority after celebrating Sukkot with Jewish people in the settlement of Efrat. (October 20, 2016)
  • Taysir Khalid, an executive member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), announced a year-long campaign against the Balfour Declaration “to remind the world and particularly Britain that they should face their historic responsibility and to atone for the big crime Britain had committed against the Palestinian people.” (October 24, 2016)
  • Four-man terror cell arrested by Shin Bet while plotting to carry out a large-scale terrorist attack at an event hall in Be’er Sheva and the kidnapping of an IDF soldier. (October 20, 2016)
  • Palestinian Authority security forces used live fire to suppress a protest against the expulsion of Jihad Tummaleh, a Palestinian politician, from the Fatah party.  At least two were injured. (October 26, 2016)
  • Hamas calls on Palestinian Authority to boycott talks with Israel for peace. (January 2, 2012)
  • Thousands of Palestinians marched through Gaza in support of the Islamic Jihad terrorist organization. (October 21, 2016)
  • Palestinian attempted to detonate three pipe bombs on Jerusalem light rail. (July 17, 2016)
  • Palestinians in the West Bank and east Jerusalem celebrate the terrorist shooting in Tel Aviv that killed four Israelis. (June 9, 2016)
  • Jerusalem bus bombing was Hamas suicide attack. (April 21, 2016)
  • Palestinian terrorist detonates explosive near Ma’aleh Adunim checkpoint. (October 11, 2015)
  • State Department Calls Palestinian Authority ‘Antisemitic’. (August 17, 2016)
  • In an interview on Palestinian Authority TV about Israel's policies regarding the Gaza Strip, a Fatah spokesperson, Osama Al-Qawasmi, quoted the Russian forgery the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. (April 29, 2015)
  • Swastika graffiti on the Temple Mount. (October 19, 2014)

Mahmoud Abbas

Israel, the United States and most of the international community were pleased when Mahmoud Abbas was elected in 2005 as President of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Expectations were high that Abbas would radically alter the policies of his predecessor, consolidate his power, reform the PA, and put an end to years of senseless violence that had claimed many innocent lives on both sides and had left Palestinians with a feeling of hopelessness.

Abbas, however, has done little since then to deserve the faith the international community placed in him.

Rather than taking tangible steps toward peace, Abbas has done nothing but bypass and evade bilateral negotiations with Israel while incessantly repeating the longstanding irredentist demands of the PLO. Moreover, Abbas' insistence that Israeli intransigence - not Palestinian - has stalled the peace process, displays an incredibly narrow and hazy grasp on recent history. Abbas's power, prestige and popularity have dramatically weakened over the years, both internationally and amongst the Palestinian people, and the evidence is overwhelming that he is the biggest obstacle to making peace with Israel.

Abbas's refusal in both January 2012 and October 2011 to discuss tangible peace initiatives with Israel through talks facilitated by Jordanian King Abdullah and the Mideast Quartet - a grouping of Russia, the EU, US and UN - barely made news headlines. Likewise, his requirement that Israel meet a set of strict preconditions before negotiations - including a settlement construction freeze, acceptance of a Palestinian state based on pre-1967 lines, and the release of Palestinian prisoners not included in the Gilad Shalit exchange deal - was also mostly excused by an international media all too quick to make excuses for the Palestinian leader.

These recent refusals are far from the first times that the Abbas government has responded to Israeli peace initiatives with blank stares and impossible demands. In fact, they reflect a longstanding trend of evading negotiations that Abbas has maintained from his predecessor Yasser Arafat. Despite at least three successive Israeli administrations voicing support for compromise, Abbas has shown no willingness to meet Israel halfway.

In 2005, when Israeli PM Ariel Sharon ordered the evacuation of all Israeli civilian and military personnel from the Gaza Strip, Abbas had an opportunity to announce that he would support the “end of occupation” and would begin to build the infrastructure of a state. Instead, he emphatically opposed the withdrawal, preferring “occupation” to a position where Palestinians could actually enjoy independence. Abbas, however, was given the benefit of the doubt by external analysts because of his relatively moderate tone.

Abbas wasted yet another golden opportunity for peace in 2008. That year, Israeli PM Ehud Olmert made an offer for peace so overt that US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice called it "amazing" and warned that "Yitzhak Rabin had been killed for offering far less." Olmert's offer called for Israeli withdrawal from approximately 94% of the West Bank, the creation of a pasasge from the West Bank to Gaza, and the equal "swapping" of land so that Israel could annex its major settlement blocs. Olmert even proposed to divide Jerusalem and absorb a few thousand Palestinian refugees. Abbas, though, refused to consummate the deal. As Israeli daily Haaretz noted, "aficionados of the Palestinians again found a million and one reasons why the peace-loving Palestinian leader had refused the offer."

In 2009, Abbas again refused to negotiate, this time with new Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and rejected the Israeli leader's offer to immediately resume talks without preconditions. Perfidiously playing the game of diplomacy, Abbas's chief negotiator Saeb Erekat called on the Arab countries to suspend the Arab peace initiative and called on the international community to isolate Netanyahu for “sabotaging” the peace process. Abbas, meanwhile, said he hoped the Obama Administration would force Netanyahu out of office and declared his willingness to wait years until that happened.

In 2010, Abbas made clear that he refused to even sit in the same room with the Israelis and the Obama administration had to levy all of its political power just to pressure the Palestinians into "proximity talks" with U.S. special envoy George Mitchell. Not surprisingly, these talks yielded little progress. Abbas's senior aide, Tayeb Abdel Rahim, said that Israel's request to launch direct negotiations was “unacceptable.” Even after Israel placed a ten-month moratorium on settlement construction in the West Bank, Abbas refused to sit with the Israeli leaders.

In 2011, Abbas finally took tangible steps in the peace process - only in the wrong direction. His political party, Fatah, declared war on normalization with Israel and discounted peace talks as useless. Later, Abbas agreed to a reconciliation agreement with Hamas despite the fact that it is an internationally recognized terrorist organization and vows to never negotiate with Israel. And, in September, Abbas tried to completely bypass negotiations once and for all, with the tacit support of the international community, by officially requesting that the United Nations recognize the independence of a unilaterally declared Palestinian state.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas stated during an interview with Palestinian Channel 2 News during early April 2016 that he was willing to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and attempt to negotiate a peace agreement. Netanyahu responded to this on April 4, 2016, telling Abbas that he was willing to meet at any time, and he had “cleared [his] schedule,” in order to meet with the Palestinian leader. Palestinian officials rejected Netanyahu's offer two days later. Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erekat told a popular Palestinian radio show that the Palestinian government rejects the idea of meeting for peace talks with Israelis without prior conditions being laid out.

Mahmoud Abbas has consistently refused to negotiate a deal now with three different Israeli prime ministers and there is no reason to expect that a change in Israeli leadership would make him any less intransigent. Abbas has proven time and again that he is either incapable or unwilling to deliver on any agreement, yet despite this fact, Israel has repeatedly been asked by external actors to make gestures to the Palestinians.

Not surprisingly, no offer has ever been sufficient. If Israel releases prisoners, it is not enough; if Israel agrees to withdraw troops or dismantle checkpoints, it makes no impression on Abbas.

The United States and the international community continue to place all their faith in a man whose track record suggests that he will remain the principal obstacle to any progress in the peace process. Rather than continuing to pressure Israel to make concessions, it is past time to look and work for a Palestinian leader who will respect not only the hopes of Israel but the wishes of his own people, the majority of whom would prefer to live in peace rather than continue to pursue a futile and endless strategy of "resistance."

Sources: Surkes, Sue. “PA intel grills Palestinians who visited settler leader’s sukkah,” Times of Israel (October 20, 2016;
“Palestinians announce year-long campaign against ‘crime’ of Balfour Declaration,” Times of Israel (October 24, 2016);
Curiel, Ilana/Zitun, Yoav. “Lethal terror attacks in Be'er Sheva thwarted,” YNet News (October 20, 2016);
Issacharoff, Avi/Lieber, Dov. “Anti-Abbas clashes erupt in three West Bank refugee camps,” Times of Israel (October 26, 2016);
“Hamas Calls on Palestinian Authority to Boycott Peace Talks With Israel,” Haaretz (January 2, 2012);
“Thousands march in Gaza in support of Islamic Jihad,” Yahoo (October 21, 2016);
Eisenbud, Daniel. “Major terrorist attack prevented in downtown Jerusalem,” Jerusalem Post (July 17, 2016);
Groisman, Maayan. “Palestinians celebrate terror attack in Tel Aviv, Saudis strongly condemn,” Jerusalem Post (June 9, 2016);
“Israel says Jerusalem bus bombing was Hamas suicide attack,” BBC (April 21, 2016);
“Terrorist detonates explosive near Ma'aleh Adumim checkpoint injuring police officer,” Jerusalem Post (October 11, 2015);
Medoff, Rafael. “State Department Calls Palestinian Authority ‘Antisemitic’,” Algemeiner (August 17, 2016);
Marcus, Itamar/Zilberdik, Nan Jaques. “Palestinian Antisemitism: Jewish plan to conquer the world?; Judaism permits killing Gentiles,” Palestinian Media Watch (April 29, 2015);
Sokol, Sam. “Jewish groups decry swastika graffiti on Temple Mount,” Jerusalem Post (October 19, 2014);
Diehl, Jackson. “Abbas's Waiting Game on Peace With Israel,” Washington Post (May 29, 2009);
Abu Toameh, Khaled. “PA won't agree to direct talks,” Jerusalem Post (June 8, 2010);
Keinon, Herb. “'PA incitement is confidence destroying measure',” Jerusalem Post (January 29, 2012);
“Israel envoy: Outlook for peace talks not ‘particularly bright’,” Washington Times (October 25, 2011);
“Palestinians Rebuff Quartet's Calls to Return to Table,” Haaretz (October 26, 2011);
Harel, Israel. “The IDF, Now Part of Mahmoud Abbas' Fan Club,” Haaretz (October 27, 2011);
Abu Toameh, Khaled. “Bethlehem mayor calls for cultural boycott of Israel,” Jerusalem Post (December 16, 2011);
Abu Toameh, Khaled. “Fatah declares 'war' on normalization with Israel,” Jerusalem Post (December 17, 2011);
Issacharoff, Avi. “Fatah and Hamas Resume Talks on Palestinian Reconciliation,” Haaretz (December 19, 2011);
“Abbas appoints terrorist released in Shalit deal as adviser,” Israel Hayom (January 2, 2012).