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Four things President Obama should tell Mahmoud Abbas

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From left to right, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Secretary of State John Kerry and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. (AP/Reuters)

On Yom Kippur, 1972, I was standing alongside a Soviet Jewish dissident outside Moscow’s lone synagogue when we were suddenly surrounded by KGB agents. Sensing my alarm, the refusenik sought to disarm my fear with some vintage Soviet humor.

“In the Socialist Paradise,” he said with a nod toward the plainclothes men, “the workers make believe they worked and the State make believes they paid them.”

That one-liner keeps coming to mind when trying to figure out if Secretary of State John Kerry’s tenacious and tedious struggle to create an agreed-upon “framework” for Israeli/Palestinian peace is real or just another expensive Middle East mirage.



Ask Israelis, and they will tell you the pressure from the Obama-Kerry team has been intense. The just-released Peace Index Poll of the Israel Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University found that 64 percent of all Israelis do not trust Kerry to take Israel’s security into account as a “crucial factor” in his “framework.” Seventy-four percent of Israeli Jews believe the U.S. is putting more pressure on Israel than the Palestinians.

President Obama’s interview with Jeffrey Goldberg on the eve of Bibi Netanyahu’s U.S. visit, wherein he threatened to let Israel twist in the wind of growing international isolation, served only to deepen the concern of Israelis. Israel’s man in the street.

And to top it all off, just days before Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas sits down at the White House, Kerry admits that mutual trust between Israel and the Palestinians is at an all-time low.

And the Iranians provide a 21-gun salute to that meeting by having their lackeys in Gaza launch 30 missiles targeting civilians in Israel’s southern communities.

If Obama is serious about bringing about Mideast peace, it’s about time he got serious with Abbas, and here are four things he should tell him:
 
1. Stop the campaign denying the Jewish people’s historic link to the Holy Land. Denying that Solomon’s Temple stood on the Temple Mount and that a Jew named Jesus walked the streets of Jerusalem’s Old City is an affront to every Jew in the world and insults both Judaism and Christianity. Despite that historical link, Prime Minister Netanyahu has told his core right-wing constituents in Hebrew that he supports two states for two people. It is past due for you to deliver the same message in Arabic. Forget CNN. Try Al Jazeera.

2. Stop Teaching Your Kids to Lionize Terrorists. I'm talking about terrorists who murdered mothers and children in pizza parlors and city buses and at Passover Seders. In the Internet era, every street named after a mass murderer of Jews, every song celebrating convicted killers that is taught to pre-schoolers, reinforces the average Israeli’s conviction that you don’t want peace.

3. The USA is not an ATM Machine. If he wants more money from the American taxpayer, Abbas must end the endemic corruption in the Palestinian Authority. President Obama should tell him that. It’s no secret that if long-delayed elections were held on the West Bank tomorrow, Hamas and “None of the Above” would far outpoll the PA among a constituency fed up with bombast and empty promises.  

Obama should deliver a little tough love of his own by demanding proof that the PA is using the millions it receives in aid for nation and democracy-building. 

He should stress that Americans expect transparency and accountability from the P.A., or the U.S. Congress will vote to distribute our aid to the Palestinian people through other means.

4. Recognize Israel as a Jewish state now.  Abbas has long called for self-determination for his people. If he cannot tell his constituents and the 21 other Arab states that he recognizes that millions of Israelis have that same right, any peace process or peace framework would be a delusional sham that could hasten another war.

On June 14, 2009, I sat in the audience in Tel Aviv’s Bar Ilan University when Netanyahu delivered some straight talk to his core constituency. For the first time he endorsed a Palestinian state, as a neighbor alongside the Jewish state of Israel.

Then, citing Isaiah’s biblical messianic vision of swords being beaten into plowshares, Netanyahu said of the Palestinians, “We do not want to rule over them, to govern their lives, or to impose our flag or our culture on them.” It was a powerful moment and an empowering gesture.

A generation ago Egypt’s Anwar Sadat had the guts to bridge the abyss of conflict and hate to make peace with Israel’s Menachem Begin. Does Abbas have the courage to do the same?

We wish our president and secretary of state well in convincing him to do so — but don’t bet the house or the safety of 8 million Israelis that he will.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. Follow the Simon Wiesenthal Center on Facebook and on Twitter.