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Fact Sheets: Mahmoud Abbas and Peace

Critics of Israel repeatedly argue that the government has no interest in peace and continues to place obstacles in the path of a 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. The problem, Israelis say, is that they have no Palestinian partner interested in discussing peace. Palestinian Authority (PA) 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 and Trump administrations.

Israel, the United States, and most of the international community were pleased when Abbas was elected in 2005 as President of the 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, the U.S., and the 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 refusals were not the first time that the Abbas government 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 generous that U.S. 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 passage 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 never to 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.

Abbas stated during an interview with Palestinian Channel 2 News in April 2016 that he was willing to meet with 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 that 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 U.S. presidents, 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.

Despite repeated pledges to hold elections, Abbas refused to allow them as his four-year term stretched into more than a decade in power.

In 2022, Abbas angered the United States when he met with Vladimir Putin and told him the Palestinians do not trust America and that the U.S. can’t mediate on its own between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. “We don’t trust it, we don’t rely on it, and under no circumstances can we accept that America is the sole party in resolving a problem,” Abbas said.

The same year, in response to being asked if he would apologize for the Munich Olympics massacre, which occurred 50 years earlier, Abbas accused Israel of carrying out “50 massacres; 50 Holocausts” of Palestinians. He made the statement in Berlin while standing beside German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. The following day, Scholz tweeted that he was “disgusted by the outrageous remarks made by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.”

Following an international uproar over his remarks, Abbas said he had “not intended to deny the singularity of the Holocaust,” which he called “the most heinous crime in modern human history.” He insisted he was referring to “the crimes and massacres committed against the Palestinian people since the Nakba” by Israel that “have not stopped to this day.”

In a speech to members of Fatah in 2023, Abbas said, “They say that Hitler killed the Jews because they were Jews and that Europe hated the Jews because they were Jews.” Jews were persecuted, he continued, because of “their social role, and not their religion,” and because they dealt with usury and money.

Abbas also repeated the long-discredited theory that Jews were descendants of the Khazars and had no roots in the Middle East. “When we hear them talk about Semitism and anti-Semitism,” he said, “the Ashkenazi Jews, at least, are not Semites.”

He also claimed that David Ben-Gurion was forced by Winston Churchill to accept the immigration of Jews from Arab countries and that he had initiated attacks on Jewish institutions in Arab countries to prompt them to emigrate. Abbas stated:  “the Jews did not want to emigrate but were forced to do so by means of pressure, coercion, and murder.”

“The Balfour Declaration saw the light of day only because of the complete agreement between Balfour and U.S. President Wilson,” he told the audience. “They were in full agreement about this phrasing. So America was a partner to the Balfour Declaration. Who invented that [Jewish] state? It was Britain and America — not just Britain.” He added he wanted to make clear “who we should accuse of being our enemy, who has harmed us and took our homeland away, and gave it to the Israelis or the Jews.”

Sources: Sue Surkes, “PA intel grills Palestinians who visited settler leaders sukkah,” Times of Israel, (October 20, 20160.
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