Trifecta of Failed Leadership

Ten days ago, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas took the stage at the opening of a meeting of the Palestinian National Council, the legislative body of the PLO, and made a speech that needs to be forcefully condemned. His speech repeated anti-Semitic tropes. He suggested that it was the behaviour of Jews that brought the Holocaust. He also denied the connection of Jews to the land of Israel.

There is no excuse for Mr. Abbas’ speech. It was outrageous. It was reprehensible.

It also clearly marked a failure of leadership. The Palestinian people deserve a leader who can address the enormous humanitarian crisis that the Palestinians face, who can galvanize global support for the creation of a Palestinian state beside Israel, and who can establish a new relationship with the Israelis who will forever live alongside the Palestinians.

None of these critical goals was advanced by Mr. Abbas’s despicable remarks.

You and I know, however, that Mr. Abbas is not the only political leader who has found opportunities to scuttle chances for creating Israeli-Palestinian peace and to drive a wedge separating the two peoples.

This week, President Donald Trump will fulfil his pledge to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. This is a symbolic move that helps no one except hardliners. It is a dangerous, reckless, and irresponsible move by the American president, and, I fear, Palestinians and Israelis will be the ones to pay the price.

We all know that Jerusalem is already Israel’s capital – but international recognition of Jerusalem’s status has always hinged on a successful resolution to the conflict, as part of a negotiated, final status peace agreement. Doing so outside of that context will be understood by all parties as an embrace of the Israeli narrative, and a snub to Palestinian claims, with respect to Jerusalem.

Moving the embassy in this way risks igniting the tinderbox of anger, frustration, and hopelessness that already exists. We would all like to see the United States pushing the parties forward towards a two-state solution. But even without such diplomacy, the least that those of us who care about the people living in Israel would expect is that the U.S. president would try to avoid provoking a new conflagration that could consume the region.

Mr. Trump’s actions do not mark the type of leadership we want to see.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – in both his policies and his rhetoric – is also leading Israelis towards more conflict with the Palestinians. And he is also sowing greater divisiveness within Israeli society. A great deal has been written about his efforts to undermine the peace process, including the machinations that undid Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to renew the talks.

Fewer people outside of Israel have seen the way he has tried to uproot the ties that bind Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel. Just last week, he publicly lambasted Israel’s only major league Arab soccer team because of a report in a fringe media outlet that its fans booed and whistled during a moment of silence for the (Jewish) Israeli teenagers killed during a flash flood in the Negev.

The prime minister’s comments drew a great deal of attention to the incident. Media and other watchdogs went back to the tapes. They tried to ascertain what really happened. At the end of the day, the facts came out. There were no boos. No whistles. The threat of a lawsuit prompted the prime minister – without further comment – to delete his Facebook post on the matter. But the damage was done. Hatred was stoked. The fears of Israel’s minority community were reinforced. Prejudices were further entrenched.

This is the political reality of 2018. Our political leaders are failing us again and again. And that means that it is up to us – to those of us who care about Israel’s future – to make sure that we look deeply at what’s going on. We must keep in mind that these leaders do not capture the complex realities of the Israeli, the American, and the Palestinian societies. We must continue to find partners for change. And we must invest in that partnership so that tomorrow can be better.

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May 2018