You see my point? Imagine you are Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority. You know that making peace with Israel will bring you the praise of British prime ministers and American presidents. Perhaps you understand that peace would be in the best interest of your people. But you also are keenly aware that serious peacemaking will place you and members of your family in severe peril.
Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat made peace with Israel in 1979. Two years later, he was assassinated in accord with a fatwa written by Omar Abdel Rahman, the “Blind Sheikh,” who would go on to be convicted by federal prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy for his role in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Since becoming president of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, has been calling for the Blind Sheikh’s release.
And the assassination of Lebanese president Bachir Gemayel in September 1982 was not unrelated to the fact that just two weeks earlier he had agreed to start the process of establishing diplomatic relations with Israel.
I’m not persuaded that Abbas is a peacemaker at heart. But even if I’m wrong about that, I’m right about this: Abbas knows that Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iranian terrorists are watching him. Israelis know that, too, which is why they cannot make concessions to Abbas that would leave them weaker vis-à-vis other sworn enemies.
The day before his visit to Jordan, President Obama addressed an audience of about 1,000 Israeli students in Jerusalem. “Political leaders,” he told them, “will not take risks if the people do not demand that they do.” On his next visit to the Middle East, perhaps the president will visit Birzeit University in the West Bank and make a similar statement. I don’t doubt that some in the audience will want to applaud, but I do wonder how many will have the courage to put their hands together.