Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is set to meet U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House today, amidst low expectations for an Israeli-Palestinian peace process that has stalled despite strenuous U.S. efforts.
Abbas arrives having rejected major American proposals, including the stipulation that Palestinians recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, which Secretary of State John Kerry now says would be a “mistake.”
In an article Monday in the Washington Post, foreign affairs columnist Jackson Diehl observes that President Obama’s continued insistence that Abbas is a moderate leader conflicts with reality:
The Palestinian president–who was elected to a four-year term in 2005 and has remained in office for five years after its expiration–turned down President George W. Bush’s request that he sign on to a similar framework in 2008. In 2010, after Obama strong-armed Netanyahu into declaring a moratorium on Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank, Abbas refused to negotiate for nine of the designated 10 months, then broke off the talks after two meetings.
Abbas agreed to Kerry’s proposal for another nine-month negotiating window last year in exchange for Israel’s release of more than 100 Palestinian prisoners, including many convicted of murdering civilians. Abbas hailed them as heroes. Then he embarked on a public campaign to deep-six the two principal provisions Israel has sought in the U.S. framework, both of which have had Washington’s support. One would allow Israeli soldiers to remain along the Palestinian-Jordanian border during an extended transition period; the other would involve Palestinian recognition that Israel is a Jewish state.
The reason Abbas rejects U.S. policies, and denounces them publicly, Diehl notes, is that there are virtually no consequences when the Palestinian leadership defies the Obama administration. In contrast, Israel has had to endure condemnation and pressure from Obama, Kerry, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.