Earlier this week, the Obama administration once again blamed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for stalling the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Top administration officials said Israel’s planned settlement expansion was “especially damaging” and “counterproductive” to forging a lasting peace.
President Obama was silent, however, when Mahmoud Abbas stated his desire to unite with Hamas. What is more damaging to a peace agreement: a unity Palestinian government committed to Israel’s destruction or new settlements in East Jerusalem?
Mr. Obama continues to insist that Mr. Abbas is a partner for peace, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. After defying America with the U.N. vote on “Palestine,” Mr. Abbas returned triumphantly to the West Bank. His first public statement was to call for a unity government with Hamas.
Either way, Mr. Abbas is not a credible partner for peace. If Mr. Abbas fails to achieve a unity government, he doesn’t speak for the Palestinian people. If he does achieve a unity government, he is not a partner for peace, for how can Mr. Abbas support peace when Hamas‘ only goal is to destroy Israel?
Hamas‘ public charter calls for Israel’s destruction. If Hamas were to remove this reference, the international community would likely embrace the terror group as a legitimate organization. Hamas would not have to mean a word of it, and could remain committed to Israel’s destruction; it just couldn’t say so publicly.
Yet Hamas is unwilling to make this symbolic gesture, despite the enormous benefits it would reap from doing so. That is how much Hamas and its supporters hate Israel, and how ideologically committed Hamas is to wiping Israel off the map. As Golda Meir famously said, “Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.”
How can Mr. Obama expect Israel to negotiate with Mr. Abbas, given his desire to align with Hamas? Would the United States ever enter “peace negotiations” with a group that is actively launching terror attacks on its civilians and calling for its destruction? Probably not. Yet apparently Mr. Obama wants Israel to do so, via Mr. Abbas.
Even putting the Hamas issue aside, it’s still unclear that Mr. Abbas wants peace. In 2008, he walked away from a historic peace proposal offered by then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, which included a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem and the return of pre-1967 lands.
Mr. Abbas walked away, saying he needed more - just as Yasser Arafat walked away from Ehud Barak in 2000, and as every Palestinian leader has walked away from every Israeli offer, no matter the terms.
It’s ironic that Mr. Obama has criticized Mr. Netanyahu’s conservative government as an obstacle to peace. It’s true that liberal Israeli governments have made major peace proposals (which have failed spectacularly). Still, the boldest move was taken by Likud’s own Ariel Sharon, who withdrew from the Gaza Strip.
If Mr. Obama gets his wish and Mr. Netanyahu is voted out, don’t expect peace anytime soon. To the current generation of Palestinian leaders, it appears nothing will be enough. Every time Israel makes painful concessions, the Palestinians ask for more, whether self-rule in the West Bank or autonomy in the Gaza Strip.
In return for these actions and gestures, Israel has gotten terror attacks and rockets targeting Israeli women and children, constant efforts to delegitimize Israel across the world, and continuous pledges for Israel’s destruction.
Forcing the Israelis to give up land for “peace,” then using terror attacks and international pressure to force further concessions, then repeating until Israel is no longer recognizable or defendable, is not a strategy for peace. This strategy does not inspire trust that Mr. Abbas rejects Hamas‘ view on Israel’s right to exist.
Peace isn’t based on promises. It’s based on actions. Though Mr. Abbas has created a functional government in the West Bank, this is not proof of a desire for peace. It is merely proof of a desire for a Palestinian state.
Mr. Obama will never be an honest or effective broker for peace until he understands this reality: There cannot be peace until all Palestinians recognize Israel’s right to exist publicly and, more importantly, privately.
David Meyers worked in the White House from 2006 to 2009.