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Abbas to Bush and Israel: Drop Dead!
What does it say about the Palestinian commitment to peace when the first American president to make creation of a Palestinian state a goal of his administration is told he is unwelcome when he comes this week to celebrate Israel's 60th birthday?
When President Bush goes to Israel, he will be persona non grata -- translation: Yankee, go home! -- in the Palestinian Authority because they will be mourning the establishment of the Jewish state, which they refer to as al nakba, or "the catastrophe."
That's not Hamas or Islamic Jihad, who make no secret of their desire to eradicate the State of Israel, but it is the man most identified with the concept of two states, one Jewish and one Palestinian, living side by side in peace -- Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority.
Even though he won't be welcome in Ramallah, Bush welcomed Abbas at the White House last month when the Palestinian leader came to urge him to put more pressure on Israel to meet Palestinian demands if he expects to achieve his goal of a peace agreement before he leaves office.
In a further effort to accommodate Palestinian sensitivities, Bush reportedly will not be visiting the Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism and the location of the ancient Temple that the Palestinians insist never existed.
Meanwhile, the P.A. is trying to organize a march of more than 100,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon toward the Israeli border, and thousands more from the West Bank and Gaza toward Israeli checkpoints and border crossings. Those living abroad are being urged to fly to Ben-Gurion Airport or take ships to Israeli ports. All this in the name of "reclaiming" homes lost in the nakba.
But the real nakba was not the creation of the Jewish state, but the rejection by Arab leaders of the 1947 partition plan and the opportunity to create a state for the Palestinians. They weren't really interested in a two-state solution then, and many apparently still are not -- Abbas' yanking the welcome mat raises questions about his own professed commitment.
The tragedy, of course, was compounded by a succession of Israeli leaders too timid and too focused on their own political careers to confront a radical settlers movement consumed with its dreams of a greater Israel and opposed to peace with the Palestinians on any terms likely to be accepted.
Abbas is snubbing two important allies -- the president of the United States and the Israeli public.
He needs both if he wants peace.
After six years of neglect, the Bush administration has started to talk as if peace was a real priority, but action has lagged far behind rhetoric. The Republican and Democratic candidates for president have indicated they would get more personally involved in Middle East peace-making.
Israeli public opinion can be a valuable asset; it is often ahead of the political leadership. Ehud Olmert was elected prime minister two years ago on a platform calling for withdrawal from 90 percent of the West Bank, and that was just for openers. There was hope for peace; the Gaza withdrawal was expected to create a showcase for Palestinian self-rule, but instead, Gaza sank into chaos and Hamas seized power in a coup.
The daily barrage of missiles from Gaza, the failures of the Second Lebanon War, scandals that have seen the Israeli president resign and the prime minister under multiple corruption investigations cast shadows over the Independence Day celebration. The Olmert government could fall and, if elections were held today, it is likely the next prime minister would be Benjamin Netanyahu, who opposes Palestinian statehood and Bush's Annapolis initiative.
Abbas strengthens Netanyahu when he tells Israelis that the anniversary of their independence is a day of mourning, and Palestinians will never recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.
Jews were driven out of Arab lands in roughly the same number as Arabs who fled Israel at the time of the creation of the Jewish state. The difference was the Jews were absorbed into the new state, given jobs and citizenship, while the Palestinians were largely confined to squalid camps in order for their unwilling Arab hosts to exploit them as political pawns to use against Israel.
Sixty years later, Palestinian statehood remains as elusive as ever, and the Palestinians are still blaming their suffering on everyone but themselves. Now that's a catastrophe.
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a Washington, D.C.-based columnist.