Friday, June 11, 2010

Abbas' Barak Moment

Shlomo Yosef has a very savvy read on Mahmoud Abbas' recent comments regarding Israel -- comments which are, without question, huge steps in a positive direction for the leader of the PA. For those of you who don't know, Abbas met with Jewish leaders in the US where he affirmed the historic connection of Jews to the land of Israel (citing the Koran for support), including the right of Israel to define itself as a Jewish state, disavowed a one-state solution (while noting its increasing popularity in the Palestinian street), and registered support for a joint Israeli-Palestinian-American committee to look into issues of incitement (by both Israelis and Palestinians). This is a rather big deal, for a few reasons. For starters, Yasser Arafat notoriously denied any historic connection between Jews and Israel, so this is in fact a substantial about face by Abbas. Moreover, for those worried about Arab leaders saying one thing to Western audiences and another to the Arab world, Abbas reiterated his comments when questioned about them by al-Jazeera.

Anyway, Mr. Yosef writes:
In doing so Abbas is having a Barak moment from 2000. Regardless of the claims and counter claims of what happened in Camp David in 2000, any Israeli in the street will tell you that Barak offered the Palestinians everything and Arafat walked away. It seems now Abbas is offering Bibi everything and is seeing if he will walk away. If he does this will give the PA everything they need to move off a negotiated track and on to a path of a unilateral declaration of statehood.

The question is whether Netanyahu is stupid enough to walk away, and the answer to that is obviously "yes" (I've spent a lot of time observing Netanyahu). But it's not inevitable. And as Mr. Yosef notes, this is a critical decision, for even if Abbas' statement is cynically motivated (and I don't care one way or the other whether it is or isn't), if Israel doesn't respond, they lose control of the discourse of a two-state solution, possibly indefinitely.

Don't take the opportunity to miss an opportunity. Now is the chance -- to seize a historic moment to negotiate peace, or to show that, yes, Israel is capable of being ruled by leaders as foolish as Yasser Arafat.

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