Does Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas want peace with Israel? Given his posture since peace talks broke down in April, his inflammatory U.N. speech and ongoing rhetoric, and now a new wave of terrorism, one wonders.
The horrific attack on a Jerusalem synagogue, killing five and wounding others as they were praying, triggered outrage among some world leaders. Secretary of State John Kerry urged Abbas to end the incitement that led to this latest tragedy.
For Abbas, however, the forthrightness of his condemnation of “the attack on Jewish worshippers in their place of prayer” was somewhat attenuated by his call to end “incursions and provocations by settlers against the [Al] Aqsa Mosque,” as if such events had actually taken place and, if they theoretically had, they somehow balanced the cold-blooded murder of Jews. News reports that Abbas issued the statement only after prodding from Kerry’s office raised further doubts about its sincerity.
The synagogue carnage is part of an upsurge in Palestinian terrorism that some in the media are calling a “third intifada,” suggesting the possible reprise of large-scale, long-term violence against Israel, as began in 1987 and again in 2000.
Cars are new weapons of choice for some terrorists who have driven them into groups of Jews, killing four people — including a 3-month-old girl — and wounding several others. Knives were used twice in one day. An Israeli soldier at a Tel Aviv train station was repeatedly stabbed and later died, and another man who came to his aid was wounded. Hours after this attack, another young Arab man stabbed and killed a 26-year-old Israeli woman at the entrance to Alon Shvut, a West Bank community, and two others were injured. That woman had survived a similar stabbing in 2006. And there have been numerous incidents of rock-throwing, Molotov cocktail flinging and other modes of mayhem.
Let’s recall that a little more than six months ago, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators were meeting with Kerry and his team in a serious effort, started in July 2013, to reach a permanent two-state peace agreement. The man who torpedoed those negotiations, who refused to extend them, was none other than Abbas. Six days before the April 30 deadline for concluding the talks, Abbas announced a Palestinian unity government with the Gaza-based terrorist organization Hamas, which refuses to even consider recognizing Israel and spews vile anti-Semitism. Through the spring and summer, as Hamas operatives kidnapped and murdered three teenage Jewish boys and the organization launched barrages of missiles across the border at Israel, Abbas and his PA — ostensibly still committed to a two-state solution — maintained unity with Hamas.
Abbas led off his recent campaign of incitement to violence with his U.N. General Assembly speech on Rosh Hashanah, accusing Israel of “a new war of genocide perpetrated against the Palestinian people.” He called Israel “racist,” and charged that it was guilty of “absolute war crimes” and “apartheid.” He said he could not “return to the cycle of negotiations that has failed to deal with the substance of the matter” and instead would seek U.N. Security Council action on Palestinian statehood.
In another incendiary move, Abbas claimed that Israel “specifically targeted the City of Jerusalem and its inhabitants, attempting to artificially alter the spirit, identity and character of the Holy City, focusing on Al Aqsa Mosque, threatening grave consequences.” (On previous occasions Abbas had denied that a Jewish Temple had ever existed in Jerusalem, a position echoed by the website of his Fatah party.)
As Abbas knows well, Al Aqsa, though built upon the ruins of the Jewish Temple, was left intact and in Muslim hands after Israel took control of the area in 1967. An agreement was reached at the time to allow Jews to visit the site, but not to pray there. While some Israelis now call for the institution of Jewish prayer on what Jews call the Temple Mount, the government has firmly rejected any change in the status quo. How many other countries would go to such lengths as Israel has to avoid religious confrontation?
Nevertheless, Abbas’s indictment that Israel has designs on the site has been spread by Palestinian media, especially social media, enraging young Muslims and emboldening some to “defend” their holy shrine by attacking Jews. His cynical exploitation of this spurious issue is not only fomenting Palestinian violence, but the toxic rhetoric could easily enrage others in the Arab and Muslim world as well.
Fatah declared a “Day of Rage” in Jerusalem on Oct. 31, two days after Israeli police killed a Palestinian who shot and severely wounded Yehudah Glick, a rabbi who supports greater Jewish access to the Temple Mount. Abbas called the Palestinian shooter a “martyr,” and his death an assassination committed by terrorists. Speaking in Ramallah on the 10th anniversary of Yasser Arafat’s death, Abbas said that Jews must not be allowed to “contaminate” the holy place and praised the “heroes” defending it. Such words can, and did, lead to more bloody attacks on Jews — witness Nov. 18’s gruesome assault on the Jerusalem synagogue.
Tragically, Israel faces a formidable obstacle in the search for an end to violence and achievement of a peace deal: Mahmoud Abbas. A two-faced Palestinian leader cannot bring about a two-state agreement.
Lawrence Grossman is the American Jewish Committee’s director of publications.