Over and over again I'd hear these perorations from certain Jewish circles arguing that there is no difference between Fatah and Hamas, or between Mahmoud Abbas and Khaled Maashal. I would cringe at such comments, while knowing full well that Abu Mazen was hardly the perfect interlocutor.
I'm a strong believer in identifying the threats to Israel without pulling any punches. But I also believe that it is important to give peace a chance, to search for signs that the Palestinians are open to change from the destructive and self-destructive path they have pursued for decades.
Hamas was and is a hopeless proposition. It not only rejects Israel's existence on extremist religious grounds but it is anti-Semitic to the extreme. Its charter sounds like the "Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion," blaming Jews for all the world's ills since the French Revolution. Its leaders have denied the Holocaust and blamed the financial crisis on Jewish control.
The Palestinian Authority under Abu Mazen is more complicated. It talks about a two-state solution. It says it opposes terrorism, if not on moral grounds, at least on practical ones. It negotiates with and talks to Israeli leaders. And so many of us drew the conclusion that here was a man one could do business with, one can deal with in hopes of bringing an end to this eternal conflict.
I still have some of that hope. I surely do not accept the wisdom or accuracy of putting him in the same category as Hamas. But I have to say that events in recent days are shattering whatever faith I had left.
The near breaking point for me was Abu Mazen's May 17 op-ed in The New York Times. In it, Mr. Abbas makes his case for bringing a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state to the United Nations in the fall. Along the way he distorts the history of the conflict in such an ugly way as to raise serious questions as to whether he has really learned anything at all over these many tragic years.
Most significant and disturbing is his description of the origins of the conflict and the refugee problem. He claims that Israel was evicting the Arabs in 1948, and that only then did the Arabs invade. His denial of the origin of the Palestinian problem and the extreme Arab rejection of Israel's existence from the very outset is disheartening and points to an unwillingness to face reality, which has long been a hallmark of Palestinian leadership.
Similarly, his case for going to the U.N. for support of a Palestinian state because there is no other way is another gross distortion of events, which again raises questions about Abu Mazen's intent.
The truth is the Palestinians over the last decade have received two solid offers from Israel which could, if accepted, have led to a state. They also had opportunities to move forward when Israel pulled out of Gaza. And they have refused to negotiate with Israel these last two years, even when Israel suspended settlement building. In sum, there have been and are many other ways.
Unfortunately, it is not this op-ed piece alone, but the fact that it is consistent with Abu Mazen's recent behavior that is so troubling. His decision a few weeks ago to sign an agreement with Hamas to participate in a coalition government raised red flags all around. How, at a time when the Palestinian Authority was claiming the need for a two-state solution, could it take this step, when Hamas stands against everything that a two-state solution represents?
His decision to avoid negotiations at all costs is also inconsistent with change. After all, the Palestinian mantra for so long was to bluntly reject Israel and any talks. Nothing like that now comes out of Abu Mazen's mouth, but the reality is he finds every excuse not to talk. Israeli settlements, no talks. Suspending Israeli settlements, no talks. Appeals from Israel and the United States to return to the table, no talks. Instead, a move to the U.N., which is the very denial of talks. Why is this so important? Because sitting at the table and negotiating in good faith sends the message that Palestinians have finally abandoned their historic position of rejection of Israel.
And now comes Abu Mazen's decision to publish an op-ed article two days after the distressing events of the "Nakba" day. And what is his prime message? That Israel is totally responsible for the plight of the refugees and there can be no solution until the refugee problem is justly solved. We know what that means.
Yes, I'm losing faith, but I haven't given it up completely. Now is the time for the international community to set Abu Mazen straight. Now is the time to press him to negotiate, to end his call for the refugees to go to Israel, to finally accept the legitimacy of the Jewish state.
There still is time to show that peace is possible.