The Election That Killed Hopes for Peace

Stand for Israel  |  September 19, 2019

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This week’s Israeli election has found us listening to pundits and voices from all sides — those who lament the results (which still are not completely clear), those who welcome them, those who haven’t made up their minds yet, etc. But despite the varying opinions and hot-takes being thrown around, the one claim that cannot be made is that they’ve hindered future hopes of peace between Israel and the Palestinians. JNS editor-in-chief Jonathan Tobin writes that a long-ago election already decided that — the election that placed Mahmoud Abbas in power, a position he’s refused to give up ever since:

What most Americans—Jewish and non-Jewish alike—still fail to understand is the broad consensus among Israelis on security issues and the peace process. That consensus holds that the Palestinians have no real interest in peace, and that in the absence of a peace partner, the kind of territorial concessions Israel’s liberal friends demand it make wouldn’t be so much unwise as insane.

That’s why all the talk about Israel’s latest election deciding the future of the peace process isn’t just wrong, but ignores the fact that this question was actually determined in an election held 14 years ago, as well as in one that didn’t happen four years later.

By that I refer to the vote that took place on Jan. 9, 2005 when Mahmoud Abbas was elected president of the Palestinian Authority, succeeding Yasser Arafat. Abbas, who was the leader of Arafat’s Fatah Party and the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, won with 62 percent of the vote. That wasn’t very impressive when you consider that his Hamas rivals refused to run in an election they not unreasonably believed was fixed, and that, according to independent Palestinian researchers, 94 percent of the coverage of the election in the Palestinian media was devoted to laudatory coverage of Abbas.

The election was largely the result of American pressure on both the Palestinians and the Israeli government then led by Ariel Sharon. President George W. Bush and his foreign-policy team had become convinced that the establishment of Palestinian democracy was the necessary prerequisite to peace. Like the Bush administration’s similarly misguided attempt to convert an Iraq that had been liberated from the rule of Saddam Hussein into a democracy, the notion that Palestinian political culture was capable of sustaining political liberty, let alone choosing peace, was a fantasy.

Bush had rightly rejected Arafat—who had been foolishly embraced by President Bill Clinton and Israeli governments led by the Labor Party as a peacemaker—as an unreconstructed terrorist. But although Abbas wore a suit rather than Arafat’s combat fatigues, he was no more interested or capable of ending the conflict with Israel than his predecessor.

While his elevation to the post of president of the P.A. was heralded at the time as a step towards peace, all it really did was to further entrench the corrupt rule of Fatah. Though Hamas branded him as a weakling, Abbas had no intention of making peace. The Islamist terror group won a Palestinian legislative election in 2006 and then organized a blood coup in 2007 that enabled them to seize power in Gaza.

So it was little surprise that when it came time for another Palestinian election, Abbas merely stayed in office without holding another vote…

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