Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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“Soft Bigotry,” Secretary Kerry, and the PLO

by Elliott Abrams
February 2, 2014


Secretary of State Kerry continues to press forward in his negotiations with Israelis and Palestinians, seeking some sort of “framework” document that would be an acceptable basis for future negotiations. We’ve been here before: the “Roadmap” of 2003 was supposed to provide such a basis and was accepted–with reservations–by both sides. My guess is that Kerry will succeed, if success is defined as keeping both sides at the table.

But what if success is defined as moving the Palestinians closer to having a decent, democratic political structure that can lay the foundation for eventual statehood?

What has Kerry, and what has the Obama administration, demanded of the Israelis to move forward? At various times a freeze of all construction has been demanded, and for ten months prime minister Netanyahu complied. For this effort, which had a significant cost in Israel’s domestic politics, Israel and Netanyahu received no benefit. More recently, Israel has been pressured to release dozens of  convicted murderers from its prisons, at an even greater political cost. That cost was then increased several fold when the murderers were received by PLO chairman (and PA president) Abbas as honored citizens.

And what has been demanded of the Palestinians? What will be demanded as part of the Kerry proposals? In my view, the answer is nothing–nothing at all. In a recent trip to the region I found universal agreement that in the last year corruption in the PA has increased greatly. The United States has not reacted in any way, thus delivering the message to Abbas that we do not care. The reception given to the murderers is just one piece of the overall picture of glorifying terrorism and terrorists, which continues apace. This is what is called “incitement” in the diplomatic lingo, and like its predecessors (including the Bush administration) the Obama administration complains occasionally but does nothing about it. And it is worth noting that Abbas was elected president in January 2005, and is in that sense in the tenth year of his four year term. There are no serious plans for elections, and once again the United States does not seem to care.

So that’s the picture: in return for coming to the negotiating table, and now for staying at the table, we overlook everything else the PA/PLO does. We overlook the illegitimacy of the government, the glorification of terror, and the spreading corruption. The clear U.S. message is that nothing really counts but sitting down with Kerry and the Israelis. I have no doubt that whatever document Kerry produces will say something about “incitement” and perhaps even something about better “governance,” a code word for reducing corruption.  And I have no doubt that six months later nothing will have changed. The Palestinians are not stupid and they can distinguish easily between real pressure and mere words.

President Bush once noted the “soft bigotry of low expectations” in our domestic context, and the term is useful here. For it is bigotry to believe that more cannot realistically be expected from the Palestinians. And it is very damaging to any hope for a decent, democratic, independent state some day. Neither the political culture nor the institutions of democracy can be built this way. That was the great error of the Clinton administration, which dealt with Yasser Arafat as if he would one day be the George Washington of Palestine instead of the corrupt terrorist he was. The error is being repeated now, as we ask Abbas for one thing only–to sit at the table–and overlook all else.

The irony here is that Abbas got his job as prime minister, in 2003, when the United States and the EU forced Arafat to create the post and fill it (and also put in Salam Fayyad as finance minister) because we came to believe that defining the borders of Palestine was not the prime goal. Instead, defining what would be within those borders was more important: was it to be a corrupt terrorist state, or one that was building toward a decent government under the rule of law? Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it, Santayana famously said. Here we go again, drawing maps of border compromises when inside Gaza and the West Bank, Palestinians are further from developing the institutions they need than they were when Barack Obama came to office.



Post a Comment 16 Comments

  • Posted by Adam

    Right on.

  • Posted by downtown dave

    It is very sad to see how the Jews in Israel are being threatened today. But that the nations of the world are opposed to Israel is no surprise. Zechariah 12:3, “On that day, when all the nations of the earth are gathered against her, I will make Jerusalem an immovable rock for all the nations. All who try to move it will injure themselves.”
    Our prayers are for Israel, but trouble is coming.

  • Posted by EMT

    Dear Mr. Abrams, You said it all. Except that no peace can be reached by external force. If the two parties are not ready, we should respect this. They should decide by themselves, if and when both sides are ready. The US should not be the police of the world. Our president is not an example, as more than 60% of Americans do not trust him. It’s better for Kerry to stay home, instead of inciting the Europeans and the Palestinians. Saddat came to Israel and spoke honestly to the Knesset and the people were convinced of his good intentions. And time proved the people right. The British gave 77% of Palestine to Jordan, without asking the Jewish people. Does Kerry know that the majority of the Palestinians were living in Jordan? They were not peaceful, and in September 1970 they revolted against the king. As a consequence, he threw them out. Most of them went to the West Bank, which was under Jordanian occupation. Jordan later gave up any claim to the West Bank. As we know now, the Palestinians do not have stability and we cannot ask Israel to make an agreement with them. It is well known that there are 19 very heavily armed Palestinian refugee camps in the West bank. Even the King of Jordan made it clear that he does not want the Palestinians to control the Jordan Valley. He trusts Israel but not the Palestinians. He does not want them back because they would make trouble. And Obama and Kerry want to force Israel to make peace with them? For the moment they are better off in Israel than in any Arab country.

  • Posted by Jassem Othman

    I do not believe that a peace deal between Israelis and the Palestinians could be achieved in light of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Values and principles are the same, but the leaders in different flavors, yet, I think Mr. Mahmoud Abbas remains better than the terrorist Arafat.

  • Posted by Jassem Othman

    EMT. Well said! I entirely agree with everything you said. Yes they are better off in Israel than in any Arab country, but respectful I do not agree that the United States should not be the world’s police force, but not on Israelis!

  • Posted by EMT

    Mr Jassem Othman with all due respect , I have never seen an ally threaten another ally, the way Mr. Kerry is threatening Israel and its leaders. Kerry is flying at our cost every 10 days and is constantly pressuring the Israelis, as if they had nothing else to do. Thank you for commenting.

  • Posted by ah

    EMT, it appears to me you are confusing issues a bit, or at least wording. On your last post, you interchangeably use the verbs “threaten” and “pressuring”, which certainly are very different items. I would argue that yes, Kerry is pressuring the Israelis. He certainly is not threatening them.

    Regarding your previous post, I disagree. “No peace can be reached by external force”, and by force, I think you mean diplomatic pressure, as certainly the US is not using force against Israel. In this case, history has proven you wrong, as Israeli-Egyptian and Israeli-Jordanian peace was reached through external pressure… (and Iraqi-Kuwait peace by actual force… but another issue).

    Secondly, regarding whether they are ready or not, I agree and disagree. As Israel has been saying that Palestinians are “not ready” for peace for decades… despite peace offers on the table whereby Israel would receive peace with all 22 Arab countries and Palestine. I think the Israelis are not ready for “Peace”, as their version of peace at the current time is grabbing as much land as possible, so “peace” on their terms, if you will.
    On your other points, you are confusing history quite a bit. The British when creating Jordan, did not need to consult the Jews, anymore than the UN consulted the Palestinians when they created Israel. Your 1970 history is off, the majority of Palestinians lived in Jordan because they were driven out by Israel in the war of 1967… by 1970 they did not flee back into the West Bank, which was not occupied by Jordan at this time, but by Israel.

    I think the underlying issue here is that you are following the Israeli government’s common propaganda line – that Israel wants peace, but can’t make it because it doesn’t have a partner. And yet, whenever there is a partner, they change the ballgame. When Hamas was elected and PA brought in, Israel said they couldn’t negotiate with a Hamas government. After the split, they said they couldn’t negotiate with the PA, because they were not reconciled with Hamas. Then they started reconciliation talks, and Israel again said it could not negotiate with Hamas. The moral of the story is clear, Israel has no desire to negotiate, because it is in a position of power and is progressively colonizing Palestine, while ethnically cleansing its inhabitants.

    Jassem – whether or not Palestinians are “better off” in Israel is a non-issue. Israel is in occupation of Palestinian land according to all international law. Iraqis are better off in the United States, but this does not mean that the US therefore has an inherent right to occupy the country. The logic is flawed in that comparison.

  • Posted by db

    ah, that is an extraordinary amount of mistakes in a relatively short post. Israeli-Jordanian peace was not brought about by anyone except Israel and Jordan. The Saudi Peace plan was accepted as a basis for negotiations by Sharon, twice, and Olmert. The Arabs ignored the call for talks. The UN did not “create” Israel, it proposed a partition plan in 1947 after extensive consultation with all sides, including the Palestinians. Majority of Jordanian Palestinians are from pre-1948 Israel. Olmert negotiated with PA post Hamas split. etc etc etc

    If you have to lie to make your point, one has to question how strong you feel it is.

  • Posted by Jassem Othman

    Ah, in all human justice, a vast territories from some countries in that part of the world should back to Jews but we should not go back far away!

    Yes, I see that Japan and Germany, Italy and South Korea are still occupied by the evil USA. Add to that, Vietnam, Phillipines, El Salvador, Guatemala… also considered to be raped and devastating by Americans. If all the above countries are really considered to be so ravaged and raped by wicked Americans, so, why do their people like Americans? But unfortunately, the big problem is with defeatist Americans those who follow those who operate on the assumption of American malignancy.

  • Posted by EMT

    For the past few weeks I have been reading in the press that Secretary of State John Kerry has said this or that. I wonder if Mr. Kerry, who is Secretary of State, has ever learned the principles of diplomacy. Above all, he was given the task of alleviating the negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, which I’m all in favor of. In his role as arbitrator, in any case he must conciliatory with one side and the other, without bias, and his task should always be conducted with elegance and discretion, without spoiling the relations between the United States and Israel or between the United States and the Palestinians. By definition, an arbitrator must be neutral. Mr. Kerry, with all due respect, to succeed in such a task and bring both parties to an agreement, this should be done diplomatically, and not by repeating the same European threats and American threats, even if only implied. Threats lead only to results contrary to those desired. The current stance insults Israel and the Jewish people everywhere. The Europeans are in no position to criticize Israel as they are in large part the cause of the incredible suffering of the Jewish people. I understand why the Israelis complain, and he should not forget that Jewish people everywhere in the world have suffered for centuries from the Europeans and elsewhere in the world through discrimination, persecution, expulsion, libel and injustice, from ancient times to the Romans, the Spanish Inquisition, pogroms, the Holocaust, as well as the Dhimi in the Arab countries, where Jews were once living in great numbers. But the Obama administration is not taking into consideration all this and is not listening to Israel as an ally. U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, who is trying to defend Mr. Kerry, is not well placed for this kind of intervention, particularly given the lie she had repeated, when speaking of Benghazi. In my view she has lost all her credibility, even if Obama, in order to protect her, has promoted her to a higher position than she had before, which does not change the facts. I wonder why Mr. Kerry is not able to defend himself, and needs Ms. Susan Rice to intervene. In my opinion, Mr. Kerry is not qualified to be Secretary of State, nor a spokesman for America.

  • Posted by Jassem Othman

    EMT, they have suffered because life is terribly unfair! Sadly, a lot of good people have suffered terribly, and many are still suffering, unfortunately, this confirms that the Great Creator so unfair with good people. Alas!

  • Posted by EMT

    Dear Mr Jassen Othman. Thank you for your comment. In my humble view, we can say that only human beings are to blame.

  • Posted by Jassem Othman

    Dear Sir, I agree that evil things people who have done because humans have an evil nature, the great philosopher Machiavelli said; that man is more inclined to do evil than to do good. Yes, a large part of the Holocaust happened by Nazis and their collaborators of the Eastern Europe villains, in particular, on the soil of this country “Poland”, which its countrymen had a great share in the slaughter of their Jewish neighbors. But, Why HE allowed to this to happen? Where HE was during the Holocaust? Why has took good people at the height of their youth and did not protect them? No, either unfair or also died a long time ago!?

    However, it is a terrible and shameful after more than 65 years of the inhuman immoral Holocaust, you find nowadays a horrible hatred against Jews in this country, which mostly I have noticed that “not publicly”, yet this testimony is confirm my words. “My Trip to Poland: The Reality of Being Jewish by Maya Kriseman.” http://www.jewishpost.com/viewpoints/My-Trip-to-Poland-The-Reality-of-Being-Jewish.html

  • Posted by ah

    DB, you indeed are a funny one. To allegedly call out “mistakes” (which were really facts), with your “corrections”, which were really mistakes.

    1. Israel-Jordan peace – Clinton pressure, forgiveness of Jordanian debt by the US, my god, “The Washington Declaration”… no clearly, there was no external pressure involved.

    2. The Saudi Peace plan – Accepted by Sharon? Not at all, it was called a quote, “Non-Starter”. There were no calls for talks, because the Israelis rejected it.

    3. UN – It proposed and approved a partition plan, and then imposed it upon the Palestinians

    4. Palestinian comment – you missed the context from the earlier mistake, re-read.

    5. Olmert negotiated minor points with Hamas, he never negotiated peace treaties. Go read all of Netanyahu’s comments since then…

    It was a jolly good attempt at undermining my arguments through fictitious “facts”. However, you should return to my original post to learn something.

  • Posted by EMT

    To Ah – what you wrote, the five points are no more than history. It is not the time to play games, we are talking about real people that suffered for centuries. I agree with you that I can never agree with such arguments, as I am part of the people who suffered.

  • Posted by db

    Saudi Plan rejected by Israelis?

    Consultation with both sides in 1947:
    “It also decided to invite the Arab Higher Committee and the Jewish Agency for Palestine to be represented at its deliberations in order to supply such information or render such assistance as the Committee might require. The invitation was accepted. Representatives of the Arab Higher Committee and of the Jewish Agency attended the meetings of the Ad Hoc Committee.”

    How did the UN “impose” partition? What military support did it give to Israel in 1947-1948 to “impose” partition? Remembering of course that the UK fought on the side of the Arabs and the UN imposed an arms embargo on Israel during the 1948 war.

    Olmert didn’t negotiate with PA? Here is the documentation on said talks from Palestinian perspective


    All of your lies are heavily documented.

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