Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is under fire for anti-Semitic remarks in a speech on Monday. The octogenarian leader blamed the mass murder of Jews during the Holocaust on Jewish financial practices, such as “usury and banking and such.”
The American Jewish community has predictably unleashed a torrent of condemnations. Less predictably, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, The New York Times editorial board and even the hard-left J Street have piled on.
Abbas’ anti-Semitism is certainly jarring. But it shouldn’t come as a surprise. He wrote an entire dissertation on the “secret relationship between Nazism and Zionism” as a PhD student in Russia. This wasn’t a deal-breaker for his US supporters who have been lionizing him as a peacemaker for more than a decade and calling on Israel to relinquish territory to him as part of a two-state solution.
But now the tide has suddenly turned. A growing chorus is calling for Abbas to step down. Anti-Semitism aside, it’s only logical. The man is now 13 years into his four-year term. He is, by all accounts, a stereotypical Arab autocrat presiding over an ossified political system of his own making. The Palestinians are more than ready for new leadership.
There are still some who say that he was better than Yasser Arafat, who declared war on Israel in the year 2000 and presided over the unraveling of the peace process that could have earned the Palestinians a state. That’s a low bar.
Abbas, who succeeded Arafat in November 2004, has presided over an equally insidious era of Palestinian rule. Corruption during his time in office has been rampant. Billions of dollars in international funds that should have benefited his people lined the pockets of the elite — all the while leaving the masses seething, and blaming Israel for their woes.
Abbas has also ruled during a period of unprecedented incitement. Official and semi-official publications are rife with screeds that charge Israel with “Judaizing” Jerusalem. The Palestinian press has glorified perpetrators of knife, vehicular or other attacks against Israelis. And the Palestinian Authority continues to dole out millions in US tax dollars to the families of convicted or slain terrorists.
Apparently, none of this was disconcerting enough to Abbas’ cheerleaders, who have only now joined the call for the Palestinian leader’s exit.
While his obsequious Western supporters touted him as the next Nelson Mandela for more than a decade, Abbas quietly created a system that made it nearly impossible to unseat him. He maintains an iron grip on the West Bank. Today, only a concerted effort from the United States and its European allies could prompt him to abdicate the throne.
But even pressuring Abbas to step down comes with risks. There’s no plan for an orderly succession. Palestinian basic law stipulates that, in the absence of the Palestinian president, the speaker of parliament should take over in preparation for elections. Right now, the speaker of parliament is a member of Hamas — Aziz Dweik.
Succession could also be determined the way it was after Arafat’s passing in 2004, through a Palestinian leadership conclave. The PLO leadership back then got together in Ramallah and selected Abbas. The process was not unlike how the Vatican selects the pope — without the white smoke, of course.
The problem with either approach is that they leave open the possibility of another thuggish or corrupt leader ascending to power, thereby perpetuating the misery of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict for another extended period. It also excludes the Palestinian people from selecting their own leader, for those who still care about democracy in the Middle East.
The key now is for the Trump administration and its allies in the Arab world — notably Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the UAE — to lean on Abbas to prepare for an orderly exit. He’ll fight it tooth and nail, but this corrupt anti-Semite knows it’s time to go.
Jonathan Schanzer is senior vice president at Foundation for Defense of Democracies and author of “State of Failure: Yasser Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas and the Unmaking of the Palestinian State.”
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