On Wednesday afternoon, as he prepared for the White House meeting in a suite at the Ritz-Carlton in Pentagon City, Abbas insisted that his only role was to wait. He will wait for Hamas to capitulate to his demand that any Palestinian unity government recognize Israel and swear off violence. And he will wait for the Obama administration to force a recalcitrant Netanyahu to freeze Israeli settlement construction and publicly accept the two-state formula.Of course, Abbas did close to nothing that was required from him while the US leaned on him. Even then, his strategy was to wait - until Bush was gone.
Until Israel meets his demands, the Palestinian president says, he will refuse to begin negotiations. He won't even agree to help Obama's envoy, George J. Mitchell, persuade Arab states to take small confidence-building measures. "We can't talk to the Arabs until Israel agrees to freeze settlements and recognize the two-state solution," he insisted in an interview. "Until then we can't talk to anyone."
What's interesting about Abbas's hardline position, however, is what it says about the message that Obama's first Middle East steps have sent to Palestinians and Arab governments. From its first days the Bush administration made it clear that the onus for change in the Middle East was on the Palestinians: Until they put an end to terrorism, established a democratic government and accepted the basic parameters for a settlement, the United States was not going to expect major concessions from Israel.
Obama, in contrast, has repeatedly and publicly stressed the need for a West Bank settlement freeze, with no exceptions. In so doing he has shifted the focus to Israel. He has revived a long-dormant Palestinian fantasy: that the United States will simply force Israel to make critical concessions, whether or not its democratic government agrees, while Arabs passively watch and applaud. "The Americans are the leaders of the world," Abbas told me and Post Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt. "They can use their weight with anyone around the world. Two years ago they used their weight on us. Now they should tell the Israelis, 'You have to comply with the conditions.' "
He's excellent at doing nothing and being praised for it.
In our meeting Wednesday, Abbas acknowledged that Olmert had shown him a map proposing a Palestinian state on 97 percent of the West Bank -- though he complained that the Israeli leader refused to give him a copy of the plan. He confirmed that Olmert "accepted the principle" of the "right of return" of Palestinian refugees -- something no previous Israeli prime minister had done -- and offered to resettle thousands in Israel. In all, Olmert's peace offer was more generous to the Palestinians than either that of Bush or Bill Clinton; it's almost impossible to imagine Obama, or any Israeli government, going further.You mean, Israel hasn't choked the Palestinian Arab lives in the West Bank? The settlements haven't caused them to be squeezed out of life? The roadblocks haven't forced thousands of people to die trying to get to hospitals? Israel's oppressive policies are having no effect on their daily lives? They can go to work and raise their families and go out to eat and visit other countries even though they don't have their own state? Those years of pressure by the US didn't hurt their people? People living under the dreaded "occupation" are living normal lives??
Abbas turned it down. "The gaps were wide," he said.
Abbas and his team fully expect that Netanyahu will never agree to the full settlement freeze -- if he did, his center-right coalition would almost certainly collapse. So they plan to sit back and watch while U.S. pressure slowly squeezes the Israeli prime minister from office. "It will take a couple of years," one official breezily predicted. Abbas rejects the notion that he should make any comparable concession -- such as recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, which would imply renunciation of any large-scale resettlement of refugees.
Instead, he says, he will remain passive. "I will wait for Hamas to accept international commitments. I will wait for Israel to freeze settlements," he said. "Until then, in the West Bank we have a good reality . . . the people are living a normal life." In the Obama administration, so far, it's easy being Palestinian.
It's almost as if years of articles by Palestinian Arabs about their horrible plight were all a bunch of lies! Say it ain't so, Mahmoud!