Deciphering Mahmoud Abbas:A More Formidable Enemy to Israel than Arafat

There’s some puzzlement about Mahmoud Abbas, the new chairman of the Palestinian Authority. Does he accept Israel’s existence or want to destroy it?

Matthew Kalman of Canada’s Globe and Mail discerns “an apparent campaign flip-flop” in this regard. A Jewish Exponent story is titled “He Wants It Both Ways: Palestinian front-runner: Anti-terror, but pro-‘return’.” An Australia Broadcast Corporation title acknowledges its mystification, writing that “Abbas’s election tactics confuse analysts.”

The media dwell on the same apparent contradiction: one moment Abbas demands that Palestinian terrorists stop their attacks on Israel and the next he (literally) embraces them, calling them “heroes fighting for freedom.” Also, he talks of both stopping the violence and of the “right of return” for over 4 million Palestinians to Israel, a well-known way of calling indirectly for the elimination of the Jewish state.

What gives?

Actually, there is no contradiction. By insisting on a “right of return,” Abbas signals that he, like Yasir Arafat and most Palestinians, intends to undo the events of 1948; that he rejects the very legitimacy of a Jewish state and will strive for its disappearance. But he differs from Arafat in being able to imagine more than one way of achieving this goal.

No matter what the circumstances, Arafat persisted from 1965 to 2004 to rely on terrorism. He never took seriously his many agreements with Israel, seeing these rather as a means to enhance his ability to murder Israelis. Arafat’s diplomacy culminated in September 2000 with the unleashing of his terror war against Israel; then, no matter how evident its failure, it went on until his death in November 2004.

In contrast, Abbas publicly recognized in September 2002 that terror had come to harm Palestinians more than Israel. Intended to prompt demoralization and flight from Israel, this tactic in fact brought together a hitherto fractured body politic, while nearly destroying the Palestinian Authority and prostrating its population. Abbas correctly concluded that “it was a mistake to use arms during the Intifada and to carry out attacks inside Israel.”

Abbas shows tactical flexibility. Unlike Arafat, who could never let go of the terrorist tool that had brought him wealth, power, and glory, Abbas sees the situation more cogently. If stopping the violence against Israel best serves his goal of eliminating the sovereign Jewish state, that is his program.

He no more accepts what he so charmingly the other day called the “Zionist enemy” any more than Arafat did (or Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad), but he is open to a multiplicity of means to destroy it. As he announced after his electoral victory this week, “the lesser jihad [holy war] is over and the greater jihad is ahead.” The form of jihad must change from violent to non-violent, but the jihad continues.

And count the many ways to undo the Jewish state: nuclear weaponry, invading armies, mega-terrorism, plain old terrorism, Palestinian demographic fertility, the “right of return,” or confusing Israelis to the point that post-Zionist leftists cause the population unilaterally to crumple and accept a dhimmi (subservient) status within “Palestine.”

For an instructive parallel to Abbas having concluded that violence is inappropriate, consider Stalin in the decade before World War II. Aware of his weakness, he announced in 1930 an intent for the Soviet Union to be a good international citizen:

    Our policy is a policy of peace and of increasing trade connections with all countries. A result of this policy is an improvement in our relations with a number of countries and the conclusion of a number of agreements for trade, technical assistance, and so forth. … We shall continue to pursue this policy of peace with all our might and with all the means at our disposal. We do not want a single foot of foreign territory.

These were not empty words; Stalin did largely keep to this program until 1939, when he felt strong enough to go on the offensive, at which point he initiated an unparalleled half century’s campaign of aggression which ended only with the Soviet state’s collapse.

For Abbas, it is 1930; he understands the need to cool things down. As someone who can realistically appraise circumstances and quietly respond to them, he is potentially a far more formidable enemy to Israel than the one-note, blindly violent, and flamboyantly evil Arafat.