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Why doesn't Abbas want peace talks?

Give Mahmoud Abbas credit, at least, for consistency. Eighteen months ago, when the then-new Obama administration tried to jump start Middle East peace negotiations, the Palestinian president balked. He said he would not agree even to meet the newly-elected Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, unless Netanyahu made several big concessions in advance -- including recognition of a Palestinian state on the basis of Israel's 1967 borders and a freeze on all Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank.

Convinced that Netanyahu was the problem, the Obama administration spent the next year in a crude and clumsy effort to extract those concessions. Netanyahu stoutly resisted; the administration belatedly discovered that it could not compel a democratic ally to comply with its demands. Eventually a rough compromise emerged: Netanyahu publicly accepted the idea, but not the pre-defined borders, of a Palestinian state; and he imposed a partial and temporary freeze on the settlements, which is due to expire in September. The administration agreed that should be good enough to start formal peace talks.

But Abbas, who watched this diplomatic drama from the sidelines, never changed. He's still refusing to meet Netanyahu unless the Israeli leader -- or Obama -- gurantees those big concessions on borders and settlements in advance. He's held firm through multiple visits by the administration's long-suffering envoy, former senator George Mitchell. He's resisted pressure from Arab leaders. He's been warned that the White House -- home to the most pro-Palestinian president since Jimmy Carter -- is about to lose patience with him. Still, he refuses to budge.

This is not, as Abbas's spokesmen contend, a matter of either principle or domestic politics. The Palestinian president has negotiated with numerous Israeli leaders and did so without a settlement freeze or other preconditions. His domain in the West Bank is as quiet as it has ever been under Israeli occupation. Elections have been put off and Hamas bottled up in the Gaza Strip. Average Palestinians are more likely to quietly welcome a U.S.-brokered peace process than rebel against it.

So what explains the intransigence?

In part, I think it stems from Abbas's deep distrust of Netanyahu, dating back to the latter's first stint as prime minister in the 1990s. As one of Obama's advisors, Dennis Ross, recounted in a memoir, Abbas jokingly threatened to jump out a window if Netanyahu won reelection (he lost). When I met Abbas in May of last year, I got the impression that he was expecting Netanyahu's second government to end like his first: He would be forced from power by his intransigence on peacemaking and Washington's displeasure with it.

Yet Netanyahu has not followed that path. He has at least appeared to be more flexible and more open to a peace settlement. Perhaps because of his deep concern with the threat posed to Israel by Iran's nuclear program, and the need for U.S. support against it, Netanyahu appears to be seriously considering a deal on Palestinian statehood -- though not, perhaps, on terms that Abbas or other Palestinian leaders would accept.

So why not begin negotiations and put the Israeli leader on the spot? If Netanyahu's terms are unreasonable, he is likely to come under renewed pressure from Obama, who seems to have made a rare emotional investment in the goal of Middle East peace. By holding out, Abbas only focuses pressure on himself -- more pressure, he said the other day, than he has ever experienced. He also opens the way for Netanyahu to resume settlement construction when his partial freeze expires.

Here we come to the real mystery about Abbas: Does he really want peace? Or would he, like Yasser Arafat before him, prefer the messy status quo to going down in history as the Palestinian who once and for all accepted that a Jewish state would fill two-thirds of the former Palestine? Abbas received a far-reaching offer from Netanyahu's predecessor, Ehud Olmert, that met the territorial conditions he now sets. He refused to accept it even as a basis for negotiations. All through the last year, the Obama administration has disregarded that history; it has told itself and anyone who asked that Abbas was ready for a two-state settlement. In the next few days or weeks, it may find out if it was wrong.

By Jackson Diehl  | August 12, 2010; 10:57 AM ET
Categories:  Diehl  | Tags:  Jackson Diehl  
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I have a grudging admiration for Mr. Diehl's ability always to find a way to blame Palestinians for Israel's refusal to pursue a comprehensive peace. But I wish he would at least humor those of us who don't think Israel is always right by acknowledging that PM Netanyahu has given Pres. Abbas no reason whatsoever to trust him.

As for Diehl's inane suggestion that Abbas should call Israel's bluff, my response would be: Why? Yes, someone has to go first but, just for once, can't it be Israel instead of Palestine?!

Of course, we all know the answer to that question...

Posted by: DCSteve1 | August 12, 2010 1:34 PM | Report abuse

To the below comment: Israel has gone first before. Do you forget all of the concessions made to Arafat? There is a saying around the world about the Palestinians refusing to seize opportunities given them, this does not come just from Israel and the Jews. Abbas is little different from Arafat, neither of them truly wants peace.

Posted by: goldiegordon | August 12, 2010 2:07 PM | Report abuse

To the below comment: Israel has gone first before. Do you forget all of the concessions made to Arafat? There is a saying around the world about the Palestinians refusing to seize opportunities given them, this does not come just from Israel and the Jews. Abbas is little different from Arafat, he does not truly want peace either.

Posted by: goldiegordon | August 12, 2010 2:08 PM | Report abuse


The better question is, why not trust Netanyahu? After all, he is the one that signed the Wye agreement to turn over control of parts of the West Bank to the Palestinians. He is the one that has already publicly accepted the idea of Palestinian state, whereas Abbas refuses to accept the idea of a Jewish state.

Also, you claim that Israel has never "moved first" and yet, it was Israel that unilaterally uprooted every single person from Gaza and evacuated the Gaza Strip, hoping that such a move would pave the way for peace. Instead, it only paved the way for Iran/Hamas to takeover the entire territory and launch thousands of rockets at Israel.

Why, then, would Israel continue with these unilateral concessions (the settlement freeze, evacuating the Gaza Strip, lifting roadblocks, removing checkpoints, etc.). At what point will the Palestinians step up and actually offer something in return?

None of us should be surprised by the actions of Abbas. It fits a clear pattern of Palestinian rejectionism, from the 1937 Peel plan, to the 1947 UN Partition Plan, to the Khartoum Resolution in 1967, to rejecting a very fair peace offer in 2000/2001 (whereby even Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia pinned the blame on Arafat), to rejecting the even more generous offer of Olmert in 2007. The question must be asked - what, then, is the goal of the Palestinians, since it obviously doesn't seem to be peace.

Posted by: Commentator10 | August 12, 2010 2:16 PM | Report abuse

Sorry to spoil your apple cart ,but Abbas has no desire to agree with Israel. Abbas just wants sympathy from all sides. He tries to worh the ends against the middle. Abbas wants Obama to give him Jerusalem and the west bank. The Bible states that Jeruasalem belomgs to Israel and shall not be seperated again. God is in control and will prevail. Abbas and Arafatare two of a kind.

Posted by: kingskid2 | August 12, 2010 2:23 PM | Report abuse

This is complete nonsense.

Netanyahu is refusing to negotiate. He has failed to respond with anything in the proximity talks. After prolonged total refusal, he says he wants another type of talks instead. And if he can't escape these talks completely, then the other side is refusing to talk?

The only new thing about the talks he wants is he would get the US out of the room, so he could abuse the negotiation process and lie about it with more effect.

Diehl knows that, but tries to protect Israel from its misconduct. But it is not protecting Israel, it is setting Israel up for disaster. This will not just go on and on, while settlers expand and Muslims are expelled. Isreal will cross a line beyond which it cannot sustain this, and then it will be in an impossible position, unable to make a peace.

If Israel destroys the possibility of two states, by taking it all, then it will lose its Jewish character and reason for being. If Israel attacks Iran and initiates the chaos it recently threatened China would happen, then very considerable power in the world that just has not cared will suddenly care very much, and not about Israel's concerns. The US in either case will be unable to save the Israelis from the hole they put themselves in.

When that happens, they can thank people like Diehl.

Posted by: MarkThomason | August 12, 2010 2:24 PM | Report abuse

Abbas wants Obama to give him Jerusalem and all land Israel captured in 6 day war. Remember God is in control and states in the Bible that Jerusalem belongs to Israel. Abbas wants sympathy when deserving none. Israel has made many consessions to no avail. The Palestines just want to whine. Obama has no right to give any of Isralie land to anyone. Obama doesn't own it and has no right of any kind to surrender something he doesn't own.

Posted by: kingskid2 | August 12, 2010 2:32 PM | Report abuse

I'm not sure your comment "home to the most pro-Palestinian president since Jimmy Carter" adequately describes the current presidents attitude toward Muslim nations. Selling out our only real ally in the Mideast is probably his dumbest foreign policy mistake, but he's made so many on the economy it dims in comparison.

Posted by: avatar666 | August 12, 2010 3:21 PM | Report abuse

Concessions ? That is always asked of Israel, checkpoints removed, thousands released, settlements frozen or removed... does anyone remember a single Pal concession ? End incitement ? renounce terror ? reform Charters ? nope not ONE !

Israel has withdrawn from the Sinai, Lebanon, and Gaza in hopes of peace. Only one withdrawal has led to a cold peace with Egypt.

Israel has offered withdrawal from most of the West Bank and a shared capital in Jerusalem under Rabin 2000 and under Olmert 2008.

The Pals have always demanded more and walked away.

Recall a single Pal concession ? Not a single one offered... lamented the dovish Israeli Labor Minister at the Clinton talks in 2000.

The Pals refuse to recognize Jewish rights to Jerusalem or any religious sites or even to acknowledge formally a Jewish state.

Tragically enabled by Arab hatred and tyranny... Pals will be denied a state forever... think the Kurds, the Baluchistanians, the Pushtuns.

Statehood is not pre-ordained. A unilateral declaration ? Hamas and Fatah have already done so... see their Charters - one Pal State West of the Jordan... no Israel.

They have forgotten of course about Eastern Palestine (now called Jordan).

Peace tragically will not happen under Abbas.

Posted by: Petras123 | August 12, 2010 4:19 PM | Report abuse

Dear Mr. Diehl, Please tell your readers what part of this post did not come from the Israeli Embassy or its ambassador, Michael Oren.

I do not find it professional for the Post's editorial page to shill for Israel's views which they can (and presumably do) present officially to the State Department or to the White House.

This is propaganda, pure and simple, unvarnished and one-sided.

Posted by: harper-d | August 12, 2010 6:17 PM | Report abuse

Let us remember what was really offered to Arafat--a major gain on only 1 of 4 critical issues. A modest gain on another and that was it. More importantly, soon to be PM Netanyahu (according to all the polls) was going to win the election. Throughout the campaign, he said his government would not be obligated to accept any agreements signed by the Barak government. Arafat was not going to fall into the trap of signing off on something far less than optimal, thus creating further cleavages within his own ranks, then not having anything delivered, would have discredited his leadership even further. Perhaps, Abbas does not want to be taken for as a fool by the Israelis. No direct talks seem reasonable until, Netanyahu demonstrates a real desire for peace based on mutual respect, understanding, and recognition of Palestinian legitimate rights as specified by UN Resolutions and more. As to reciprocal moves by Abbass, I am not sure what more he can do in the West Bank to prevent future attacks by individuals on Israelis given the situation on the ground. Hopefully, there will be no terrorist attacks against Israel in the West Bank or Jerusalem to further derail direct talks in the near future.

Posted by: sssallie51 | August 12, 2010 6:19 PM | Report abuse

Diehl is another lying jew.
How many f.cking lying jews does the Post have?

This paper is a 'jew'paper.

It stinks like sh:t!

Posted by: Tom49528064 | August 13, 2010 6:10 AM | Report abuse

Does the Post employ anybody who isn't a lying jew?

Posted by: Tom49528064 | August 13, 2010 8:20 AM | Report abuse

Does the Post employ anybody who isn't a lying jew?

Posted by: Tom49528064 | August 13, 2010 8:21 AM | Report abuse

Does the Post employ anybody who isn't a lying jew?

Posted by: Tom49528064 | August 13, 2010 8:32 AM | Report abuse

Let's first address the poison here: There's no place on the Washington Post Web site, or in the world entirely, for hatemongers like the previous poster. First, Jackson Diehl is not Jewish -- and if he were Jewish, so what?. Second, The Washington Post is a newspaper, not the word the hatemonger used. Third, the Post has employees who are Jews, non-Jews, blacks, whites, Protestants, Catholics, Hispanics, Asians and from many other groups. There's no such group -- at the Post or in the world -- as the f-l group you mentioned. Maybe you can breed your own such group?

On the content of the commentators: Please examine the historical record. Israel spent the better part of the period between 1993 and 2000 giving the Palestinians nearly everything they wanted: territory, independence and control over their own affairs. Israel even provided weapons, money, security cooperation and training of all kinds.

In return, the Palestinians obligated themselves to do only a few basic things: behave like human beings by (a) stopping the terrorist killings of Israelis, and (b) stopping the incitement of Palestinian children and adults to hate and kill Israelis. That's it: Just get along with your lives. Yet, the Palestinian leadership and society cannot and will not actually do what they committed to do in every single agreement signed with Israel. Summer camps promote the hatred of Jews. Mothers speak proudly of encouraging their sons and daughters to kill Israelis and become martyrs. Parents strap toy grenades and toy dynamite (at least, I THINK they are toys) to their infants, and take photographs of their future bombers. Palestinian towns name squares for terrorists who hijacked Israeli buses and killed civilians. Newspapers and books spew venom and print the most vile cartoons, the likes of which would be condemned anywhere else in the world were anyone but Jews/Israelis the targets. And on and on. Does ANY civilized society do such things? This is a sickness that must be recognized and addressed. How can Israel negotiate with such people? Why should Israel trust the signature of a Palestinian leader, when, five minutes after the ink dried on the Oslo agreement, Arafat delivered speeches that essentially said, "These agreements are just tactics. Our quest to destroy Israel continues." That always was the mentality, is the mentality and will be the mentality of Palestinian leadership. Abbas has no interest in signing a peace deal that ends the coflict -- and, that being the case, why should Israel trust that a peace deal means anything?

If you doubt any of this, please search educate yourself. The Web and your library have plenty of reputable sources of information.

If you folks truly believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu and Israel, generally, are intransigent, then you have not done your homework and are being dishonest. Israel does not have to establish its credentials as a serious peace partner. It has gone above and beyond from Day 1.

Posted by: scribe85 | August 13, 2010 10:44 AM | Report abuse

TO kingskid2: Such gibberish. Religious hypocrite. As long as the Israelis keep forcing the Palestinians from their homes, bulldoze their homes, invading their properties and on and on, why should anyone want to talk peace. Israel is the aggressor, invader and an imperialistic state of worse sort.

Posted by: hassebisse | August 13, 2010 11:12 AM | Report abuse

Abbas is not the problem. This is the problem.

Zionism had brought Israel to an impasse.

Because there is little remaining feasibility for a two state solution; it has been largely foreclosed by forty years of illegal annexations and colonization of the West Bank. The Zionists said, hey we have the power, we will take whatever we want!

Fine, except there is nothing but a fraudulent farce in any further negotiations. Meaningless talks about talks. It is quite likely that Mr. Abbas knows this too.

Because the one state solution (unitary, democratic, and non-sectarian) is anathema to Zionism, maintaining as it does the racist sovereignty of a particular group. Equal political rights, including Palestinians? Entirely a non-starter.

Because there is no feasibility for an enduring Apartheid Israel; this was unacceptable in South Africa and it will be just an unacceptable here.

Nelson Mandela and Bishop Tutu have written eloquently on this, and upon Zionist demand, I will post their remarks.

So what does this leave us with but the fact that Zionism is racism and unending war? Those who have made a peaceful solution impossible, have made a catastrophe nearly inevitable. A recent example of this folly is turning Turkey from an ally into an enemy. Like that will help a lot!

And we who have warned for so long against strategic fiasco are to blame? Because we are anti-Semites or if Jews, self-hating? Rubbish.

All I want is to get America OUT of this trap.

Posted by: tarquinis1 | August 13, 2010 12:02 PM | Report abuse

Abbas may be convinced that there will be a war, in which Israel will be defeated. With Obama holding off on the supply of advanced weaponry to Israel, and Iran, and, possibly, China, supplying Syria, Hezbolla and Hamas, that is certainly a possibility. In such a case, it is likely that Israel, in its desperate fight for survival, might employ nuclear weapons. The US, being the staunch supporter of Israel that it is, would probably condemn Israel for doing so, and possibly, might attack Israel to prove its even-handedness to the Muslim World.

Posted by: sydsyd | August 13, 2010 12:35 PM | Report abuse

Arafat was not an honest broker in peace. He spoke about peace with Israeli’s and about hate to his own people. He kept Palestinians together and behind him by fear mongering. Abbas has not spoken of hating Israeli's or encouraged his people to kill them. The loss of that fear factor was partly to blame for his Fatah party losing control of Gaza to Hamas. The West Bank situation today is very different from the Gaza strip. Young Palestinian views in Gaza have been seriously radicalized by Israel's collective punishment of Palestinians in that strip and by Hamas which hates Israel and preaches that hate.

The problem in the West Bank and Gaza isn't just land, it is control. Israel controls everything (building, travel, water, sewers, business, imports and exports). Having your own country but little control over basic infrastructure doesn't really give you much of anything. Netanyahu has talked about turning over territory, but not much of security or control of that region. Over 100 Palestinians have died by Israeli hands in the last 1.5 years while only 7 Israeli's have been killed by Palestinians. That really isn’t a big confidence booster. Palestinians homes in the West Bank are demolished much faster than Israel issues building permits to allow Palestinians to build. Palestinian building in the West Bank is restricted primarily to “in-fill” not expansion for population growth. There is a deficit of TRUST and that isn't just because of Palestinians. Palestinians are not the ones shoving guns in Israeli faces and arresting them without charge for an undefined time either.

There are problems on both sides, but the real power to change the basic dynamics lies with the Israeli's rather than the Palestinians. Palestinians have lots of anger, fear and hate that is facilitated by their treatment, but little real power to change their treatment or the factors that contribute to their distrust, hate and fear of Israeli’s. Israel could change that dynamic tomorrow, but hasn’t shown a serious interest in doing that. What little effort they have made has been primarily a result of pressure from the US.

Posted by: PJW5552 | August 13, 2010 12:38 PM | Report abuse

When Arafat was the Palestinian leader, the discredited Israeli neocons of DC and the Israeli war criminals like Netanyahu, all said that Arafat was an obstacle to peace! Their man was Abbas and they wanted him as the Palestinian leader! They got him! Arafat no more! Israel has been negotiating with Abbas for years now! The poor guy is under Israeli military occupation and he has been pleading with the Israeli war criminals to negotiate in good faith! "Israel", negotiating in bad faith, told him frankly that it is interested in endless negotiations and in continuing building illegal settlements in the occupied lands! Now the Israeli reckless policies exposed the poor guy to his people as a traitor! The reckless Israeli policies, which American Generals termed as a threat to American national security, also dug Israel deeper and deeper in a very deep hole called apartheid Israel! Now it is too late for the two-state solution. The only way out of it now is through a ONE secular democratic state resolution to the israeli/Palestinian problem, where Christians, Jews and Muslims enjoy equal rights. The appropriate name for the new state is what Ghaddafi of Libya called Isratine! Come to think of it, it is a nice name for a state where Israelis would feel they have all of Israel and the Palestinians would feel they got back all of their homeland, Palestine! The only other alternative left for both sides is to wait for the natural process of history to do its work, where legitimacy, geography, demography...etc are on the side of the indigenous people of Palestine, the Palestinian people.

Posted by: editor4tonio | August 13, 2010 3:46 PM | Report abuse

True. The Arabs have never clearly and unequivocally accepted the so-called "two-state solution," although the most recent Israeli governments have.

I would also point out an error of history that Mr. Diehl makes when he refers to "a Jewish state would fill two-thirds of the former Palestine?" in his last paragraph.

In fact, the original Palestine administered by Great Britain included all of what is now Jordan and the land west of the Jordan River. In the early 1920s, Britain, in flagrant contradiction of the famous Balfour Declaration, carved out Transjordan as an Arab kingdom, leaving only about 30-40 percent of the original Palestine to be carved up between the Jews and the Palestinian Arabs west of the Jordan River.

Furthermore, the Jordanians had no legal right to the so-called West Bank, formerly Judea and Samaria, when they grabbed it and occupied it illegally during Israel's War of Independence in 1948.

The pre-1967 borders that the Arabs insist on were no more than an armistice line. Israel would be insane to return to that situation, and everyone there knows it.

Posted by: NoBubba | August 13, 2010 5:55 PM | Report abuse

I wish President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu the courage and wisdom necessary to conclude a just and lasting peace.

Bruce Craig Roter
Composer of "A Camp David Overture (Prayer for Peace)"
On Youtube at

Posted by: broter2 | August 14, 2010 10:35 AM | Report abuse

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