Mahmoud Abbas Gives Up on Peace
The sad political reality behind Mahmoud Abbas’s “bombshell” declaration on Wednesday that the Palestinians no longer regard themselves as bound by the Oslo Peace Accords is that there was so little left to disown.
Worked out between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in secrecy, the Oslo Accords launched what has been known ever since as “the peace process,” a series of staged actions that were supposed to lead to a final peace settlement. When Yitzhak Rabin and Yasir Arafat shook hands on the White House lawn 22 years ago, it seemed that the way to an Israeli-Palestinian peace based on the existence of two states was finally open.
But it was not long before the optimistic timetable broke down amid suicide bombings and other acts of terrorism, intifadas, rocket barrages, unceasing expansion of settlements, military clashes and ever more bitter mutual recriminations. Repeated bouts of negotiations collapsed; the last American attempt at getting talks going fell apart in 2014.
It is hard to gauge what President Abbas’s declaration before the United Nations General Assembly amounts to. He did not specify what tangible actions might follow his rejection of Oslo, and it would be foolhardy for him to cut the existing security, economic and civil cooperation with Israel, or to incite the Palestinians to more violence, especially at a time of high tensions over holy places in Jerusalem. On the Israeli side, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a brief statement that dismissed Mr. Abbas’s speech as “deceitful” without any notice of his main announcement.
There is no question that Mr. Abbas is an acutely bitter man. At 80, he has effectively given up on ever achieving a negotiated Palestinian state; he is increasingly unpopular among the Palestinians, and the Palestinian Authority he leads effectively controls only the West Bank since Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007. His chief preoccupation lately has been on a series of gestures, largely futile, to gain international recognition of a Palestinian state, like the official raising of the Palestinian flag at the United Nations on Wednesday.
Bombshell or not, it is not a speech to be lightly dismissed. Mr. Abbas is among the last of Mr. Arafat’s generation of leaders who led the Palestinians from brutal terrorism to recognition of the state of Israel, and the Oslo Accords represented enormous concessions both by them and by the tough Israeli pioneers Mr. Rabin so nobly represented. There is no point in playing the tedious and useless blame game; Mr. Abbas has certainly made his share of errors and many powerful Palestinian figures long ago turned from negotiation to violence against Israel and Israelis. But the failure of everyone — Palestinians, Israelis and Americans — to build on the promise of Oslo is a tragedy for all.