Abbas has a strategy of escalation and he is in a dangerously bad mood

September 29, 2014

Israel has not “chosen to make” this year or any other year “a year of a new war of genocide perpetrated against the Palestinian people”. Mahmoud Abbas' speech to the UN, at the center of which he made this preposterous lie, was, as Nahum Barnea noted, a declaration of war. It was an intentional declaration of war – and not just against Israel. The blunt reaction of the Obama administration to the speech testifies to the fact that the White House got the memo: Abbas is in a defiant mood, and believes that rocking the boat, even violently, is his only hope of moving the boat forward. He believes that using force is the only way he can squeeze concessions out of Israel and that using force is the only way he can push the US back into a more active role in helping the Palestinians get what they want.

The Jerusalem Post editorialized yesterday that “Abbas’s speech makes it difficult to imagine moving forward in negotiations with the Palestinians over a two-state settlement”. That is a wrong formulation – the more accurate would be: “Abbas’s speech is a result of him not being able to imagine any other way of moving forward in negotiations over a two-state settlement”. In other words, the speech is the result, not the cause, of difficulty to imagine fruitful negotiations.

What else, then? Abbas has a strategy. Whether his is a good strategy for the Palestinians or not only time will tell. The Palestinian President heard many arguments – from Palestinians, Americans and Israelis – against his strategy. He heard even more arguments against his timing (some advisors told him to postpone the speech at least until after the US midterm election – expecting a more accommodating approach on part of the Obama team when politics give way to the last two years of Obama policies).

But, for whatever reason, he decided not to budge. Maybe because he knows that there is always a reason to postpone – if not the midterms, then ISIS; if not ISIS, Iran; if not Iran, who knows. Maybe because of his age and his belief that acting now is his only option. Maybe because of the internal Palestinian pressures that force urgency upon him. Maybe it is just his dark mood. More than a strategy, Abbas seems to have a very bad mood, and that might be the most troubling aspect of his recent speech (and yes, Israel and the occupation can't be absolved of being a cause for such a mood).

So Abbas decided to use force, and since he doesn't have military weapons the meaning of force for him is using other weapons: the UN, international organizations hostile to Israel, international courts, the severing of cooperation, including security ties, giving back the keys.

All these are not going to be used at once. Abbas began his journey of escalation with the speech and intends to gradually intensify the pressure. He was warned a couple of weeks ago by an American generally sympathetic to his idea that he should expect Israeli measures of retaliation. The response was: I don't care – there's nothing Israel can do to deter me. Israelis came back with a similar impression after visiting him or his advisors. Abbas is gambling on confrontation, and the more it becomes fiery, the better for him – that is, as long as the Palestinians do not cross the fine line that can help Israel paint them as terrorists.

It is a dangerous tiger that Abbas intends to ride. Barnea wrote that Abbas had two options to choose from: “The first is to allow terror to resume, which he has rejected out of hand. The second is to launch a diplomatic attack on Israel, through the UN institutions, much to the Americans' resentment”. I am not so certain these two options can be so neatly separated from one another: If Palestinians are made to believe that a genocide is being carried out against them, they would be right to ask if that doesn't justify real violence, and not merely a diplomatic war. If Israel is a “racist” state, they'd be right to at least consider if any peace with it is desirable.

If all other means fail, if the world, and the world agencies to which he turns, don't help him – Abbas seems to have two last resorts. The one before last is to freeze all security cooperation with Israel's forces – not to condone terror but to quit from actively battling against it. The last is to give the keys back – to dismantle the Palestinian Authority and burden Israel with having to take care of the Palestinians in the West Bank.

These are serious threats. Abbas seems serious about going all the way with his plan. Calling him a liar – his speech was filled with lies and inaccuracies – is not going to stop him. Telling the “truth”, as Prime Minister Netanyahu promised he'll do today when he gets to speak at the UN, is not going to stop him. The “peace process” of old is no longer an option. Negotiations can no longer be useful. Israel will be battered at international forums. And the Palestinian leader feels that there is nothing for him to lose.

That is not good for Israel – and quite possibly bad for Palestinians as well. Abbas is playing with fire, knowing that he might put the whole forest aflame. He is not afraid to be seen as an arsonist – he wants to be seen as an arsonist. He wants the world to pay attention to the possibly dire consequences of letting an arsonist decline into a dark-dark mood.

It is reasonable to want Israel to have a plan that makes the arsonist stop, a plan beyond calling him a liar and saying that he is no longer a partner.

Maybe there is such a plan. Maybe it is secret.

Did you enjoy this article?
You'll love our roundtable.

Editor's Picks

Latest Articles

Beauty Without Borders

I was amused by this scene of an elderly, ultra-Orthodox couple enjoying a coffee while a sensual French song came on. Do they have any idea what this song is about? I wondered.

More news and opinions than at a
Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.