Judging by this Associated Press report, Pope Francis and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas appear to be getting along quite well:
Pope Francis praised Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as an “angel of peace” during a meeting Saturday at the Vatican that underscored the Holy See’s warm relations with the Palestinians.
Francis made the compliment during the traditional exchange of gifts at the end of an official audience in the Apostolic Palace. He presented Abbas with a medallion and explained that it represented the “angel of peace destroying the bad spirit of war.”
Francis said he thought the gift was appropriate since “you are an angel of peace.” During his 2014 visit to Israel and the West Bank, Francis called both Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres men of peace.
Abbas, for his part, was in Rome to attend this Sunday’s canonization of two nuns from the Ottoman Empire era. He presented the Pope with relics of the two new saints, Marian Bawardy and Marie Alphonsine Ghattas, whose canonization is viewed by the Catholic Church as “a sign of hope and encouragement for Christians in the Middle East at a time when violent persecution from Islamic extremists has driven many Christians from the region of Christ’s birth.”
“Abbas’ visit also comes days after the Vatican finalized a bilateral treaty with the ‘state of Palestine’ that made explicit its recognition of Palestinian statehood,” the Associated Press added.
The Pope is acting in accordance with the standard Western political doctrine of showering effusive praise on every vaguely “moderate” Palestinian leader who looks like a counterweight to the bloodthirsty terrorists who hold so much power among the Palestinian people. The idea is that placing “moderates” on very high pedestals will reduce the influence of gangsters like Hamas, while simultaneously twisting Israel’s arm to make extravagant concessions in a statehood deal with the “angels of peace.” Forget about the showers of murder rockets raining down on Israeli civilians from Palestinian territory, and take a gander at that awesome medallion the Pope gave Mahmoud Abbas.
This strategy is pursued vigorously by those who think a simple solution to the “Palestinian problem” is but an Israeli handshake away, despite decades of evidence to the contrary.
What has “Angel of Peace” Mahmoud Abbas been up to lately? The BBC ran an article earlier this week about how “Palestinian democracy is in the doldrums after years under Mahmoud Abbas,” who is currently in the tenth year of his four-year presidential term.
“Mr. Abbas, a plodding, grey politician, has not openly cultivated a successor, as he has focused on keeping his grip on power,” the BBC wrote. He’s canceled every election since the one that brought him into power. Along the way, he’s raked in kleptocratic fortune estimated at over $100 million. His sons have built impressive fortunes as well.
Quite a bit of that money was looted from American taxpayers, by way of foreign aid payments. “Another PA official, former security minister Mohammed Dahlan, has claimed that $1.3 billion vanished from the Palestinian Investment Fund since it was turned over to Abbas’ control in 2005,” reports the Jerusalem Post.
Meanwhile, Abbas’ mismanaged government couldn’t even pay the salaries of civil servants from January through April, in part because the Angel of Peace was more interested in staging international court show-trials against Israel than working constructively with them. His idea of peaceful negotiations involves threatening to “internationalize the conflict” with Israel even further, a threat he repeated immediately before hopping on the plane to Rome.
On the other hand, supporters of rival Palestinian factions such as Hamas and Fatah claim Abbas’ Palestinian Authority is too cozy with the Israelis. Charges of corruption fly back and forth between Abbas and his rivals. There have been human-rights complaints against the PA for cracking down on its political opponents.
He’s also apparently keen on enforcing Islamist speech codes, “investigating” a Palestinian cartoonist who had the temerity to draw an extremely flattering toon of someone who merely resembles Mohammed. It took him a while to admit the Holocaust occurred, but he still thinks Zionists helped cause it. Critics say Abbas hasn’t exactly made bold strides toward cleansing anti-Semitic material from Palestinian cultural and educational materials. Like just about every Palestinian leader with major international media exposure, what Abbas says to domestic audiences is quite a bit different from what he says when Western cameras are rolling.
To put it most charitably, Mahmoud Abbas might be the least of the evils presented by Palestinian politics at the moment, the best card to play out of a very bad hand. But that’s not how his Western admirers profess to view him. Showering him with praise to build him up, and raise the bar for his conduct if he wants to keep those golden medallions coming, instead has the effect of lowering standards for Palestinian conduct. They have every reason to believe they can take a hard, uncompromising line in negotiations with Israel, while keeping very flexible ethical standards for their own government, without the “international community” holding them accountable.
Like the mullahs of Iran, Palestinian leaders can see how desperate Western politicians are for a deal they can parade across the Sunday shows. Quite a few Western politicians, very definitely including the current American president and his top advisers, think resolving the Palestinian problem will “fix” the entire Middle East. They don’t think they have much leverage with the Palestinians – lean too hard on Abbas, and he’ll be replaced by some blood-splattered demon from Hamas – so all the pressure to work out a deal is directed at the Israelis, who are expected to make all the concessions necessary.
A great deal of what Western political and moral authorities say to Middle Eastern leaders is aspirational, rather than realistic: treat Mahmoud Abbas like a divine agent of peace, or the Iranian dictatorship like a responsible nation-state, and they’ll become one. It would be easier to defend this strategy if there was any evidence from the past half-century that it works.