When Jewry didn't meet Pally

By Emanuele Ottolenghi, January 27, 2012
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How dare Benjamin Netanyahu ask Anglo-Jewry's leaders not to meet Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas!

Abbas was in London last week, and wished to meet the local Jewish community - something which Downing Street encouraged. But Netanyahu's office got in the way and complained that, since Abbas was refusing to meet him, Abbas did not deserve the honour.

But Abbas had every reason to meet Anglo-Jewish leaders. Domestically, he lacks democratic accountability - he has postponed or cancelled elections since his term expired. His refusal to sit with Israel and negotiate is becoming a liability for him. But, as long as this intransigence is blamed on Israel and Abbas retains his moderate image, he can continue to postpone the moment of truth.

It has worked so far - and a meeting with Anglo-Jewry, especially if its outcome were an endorsement of Abbas' widely perceived moderation, would give his alibi a new lease of life - after all, Abbas is looking for additional allies who can put more pressure on Bibi while cheering his reasonableness.

Why take the risk of walking into this trap?

Why take the risk of walking into this trap? Presumably, Anglo-Jewry's leaders are aware that Abbas - a man whose youthful sins include Holocaust denial as his PhD thesis - has already rejected far-reaching peace overtures former Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, made to him in September 2008.

They surely know that Abbas is behind the concerted campaign of delegitimisation that is being waged against Israel in international forums. Or that he is fully committed to the unilateral campaign for Palestinian statehood, whose goals include imposing a territorial solution in lieu of talks. They also must know that Abbas continues to peddle the self-defeating demand for a right of return of Palestinian refugees, which he grounds in a distorted version of history that he is ill-prepared to set aside, much less to question.

Armed with this, those who wished to attend would no doubt do so with their eyes wide-open and render a service to Israel. After all, if Her Majesty's Government, whose deputy Prime Minister thinks Israeli settlements are an act of vandalism, wished Anglo-Jewish leaders to see Abbas, it must be because it expected them to speak bluntly and say what no one else dares to say to the Palestinians these days.

Surely they would tell Abbas that the Palestinian cause has, with all the follies of its leaders, almost irreparably alienated even the most ardent Jewish supporters of peace. And that his stubborn refusal to meet Bibi has earned him nothing and helped no one.

They would tell Abbas that you cannot have and eat the cake - that, if you wish to negotiate, you should not at the same time attempt to drag your partners in front of the International Criminal Court. And, finally, that you cannot demand a retreat on settlements when no Palestinian leader has ever retreated on refugees. These messages, pronounced by the leaders of Anglo-Jewry and never before heard by Abbas, would no doubt have hit the mark. What could go wrong?

We don't know - and as always, we can smugly blame Israel's government for precluding the possibility that these and other tough questions be put in a straightforward manner to the Palestinian president, the man we are led to believe is the only antidote to Hamas. Then again, what if Anglo-Jewish leaders failed to confront the man who currently epitomises the failure of Palestinian nationalism to produce anything constructive for the sake of peace?

What if they had given him a hall pass and let him emerge from the meeting with another shining trophy and an everlasting tribute to his fake moderation?

Emanuele Ottolenghi is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies

    Last updated: 10:48am, January 27 2012