1) No return?
Recently, as Dan Williams reported for Reuters, Mahmoud Abbas apparently gave up his “right of return.”
Speaking to the top-rated Israeli television newscast, Abbas was asked whether he wanted to live in Safed, his boyhood town in the Galilee region of what had been British-ruled Palestine and is now northern Israel.
“I visited Safed before once. But I want to see Safed. It’s my right to see it, but not to live there,” Abbas told Channel 2, speaking in English from the West Bank city of Ramallah.
“Palestine now for me is ’67 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital. This is now and forever … This is Palestine for me. I am (a) refugee, but I am living in Ramallah. I believe that (the) West Bank and Gaza is Palestine and the other parts (are) Israel.”
Elder of Ziyon noted that Abbas was quick to correct himself.
That hasn’t stopped Joel Greenberg from reporting, Israel’s Netanyahu cool to Abbas’s hint at waiving Palestinian ‘right of return’:
Remarks by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas suggesting that he was conceding the “right of return” of Palestinian refugees, a core issue in dispute with Israel, drew a wary response Sunday from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after setting off a storm of controversy in the Palestinian territories.
“Only in direct negotiations can the real positions be clarified,” Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting. “If Abu Mazen is really serious and intends to promote peace, as far as I’m concerned we can sit down together immediately.” Abu Mazen is Abbas’s nickname.
Netanyahu’s reaction contrasted with that of Israeli President Shimon Peres, who on Saturday praised Abbas’s comments to an Israeli television station as a “brave and important public declaration” by a “real partner for peace.” Some Israeli newspaper commentators also called the Palestinian leader’s remarks a significant development.
Note how Greenberg frames this. Abbas made a significant concession and Netanyahu was “wary” of responding to it.
Israel Matzav believes that Abbas simply misspoke.
Jonathan D. Halevi writes in No Change in the Palestinian Position on the Right of Return:
According to the Palestinian consensus, the nonimplementation of the right of return will leave the doors of the conflict with Israel open, implying a justification to continue the armed struggle even after a Palestinian state is created.
Any Palestinian leader who dares challenge this consensus and gives up the right of return in negotiations with Israel stands, at best, to be ostracized and removed from the stage or, worse, executed. The Palestinian arena’s harsh reactions to Abbas’ remarks to Channel 2 indicate the inability of the Palestinian leadership, even if it so desired, to present a compromise position on the refugee issue.
In sum, Abbas did not deviate from the established, familiar, basic Palestinian positions on the refugee issue, and he continues to regard the refugees’ return as a “sacred right” that is in the hands of the refugees themselves, with no one authorized to concede it in their name.
Nadav Shragai adds in Don’t get burned twice:
There was no real reason to wait between Abbas’ Channel 2 interview and the quick-to-follow clarification he made on Egyptian television, in which he defined the right of return — which no one can deny the Palestinians — as “holy.”
There was no real need for this because Abbas and his colleagues, just like Arafat who led the architects of the Oslo Accords astray back in his day, are experts at doublespeak and half-truths: One language is for Israel and the West and another language, completely the opposite, is for his people.
Whoever follows reports by organizations such as Palestinian Media Watch and the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) can easily see that the Palestinian Authority is not educating its people toward mutual existence and peace with Israel, but rather is denying Israel’s right to exist, presenting the conflict as a religious struggle in the name of Islam, and through the visual and textual content it propagates, eternalizes a Middle East devoid of Israel.
Even if Abbas meant his statement, there was no real change in his position, as evidenced by his followup denials. Yet even after those denial, the Washington Post’s correspondent still framed the story as being about Israel’s lack of receptiveness rather than Abbas’s insincerity.
2) Turkey vs. Israel
Not only, as Michael Rubin writes, is Turkey putting Israeli military leaders on trial for the raid on the Mavi Marmara:
For anyone who, despite the last decade of Turkish foreign policy, believes that the Turkish government is more interested in peace than in inciting hatred toward Israel, Turkey’s decision to host a puppet trial of Israeli leaders should put such notions to a rest.
… in addition, Prime Minister Erdogan is planning a trip to Gaza to boost Hamas.
Additionally, five PKK militants were killed by the Turkish army in clashes during another operation on Cudi Mountain on Saturday.
The PKK is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the EU.
3) Echoing Egypt?
Jonathan Spyer writes of his recent time traveling through Syria in Anatomy of a Revolt:
The absence of a clear political strategy and of unity was also plainly apparent. Saumar, commander of the Ahfad al Rasul battalion in the Mashad district, a big and very calm man, slow of speech, surrounded by his fighters, told me “I’m a field commander, and I belong to the Aleppo military council. But not to any external or political group.”
These improvised rebel battalions, consisting overwhelmingly of Sunni fighters from poor rural families, are the backbone of the rebellion against Bashar Assad. They are determined and courageous. But the revolt suffers from an absence of any clear political goal beyond the bringing down of Assad.
The absence of strategic vision is not without exception. And unsurprisingly it is the Islamist forces who have the clearest svision and set of goals. Haji al-Bab, an intense, blue eyed commander of the powerful Tawhid Brigade, was concise and clear when I asked him regarding the goal of his unit’s struggle. “An Islamic state,” he said, “with protection for minorities.”
While the revolt against Assad is much bloodier than the revolt against Mubarak had been, this element is an echo of the “Arab spring” in Egypt. Those who have the clearest vision for the future are the Islamists. In politics it is often not enough to be against something, having a positive vision is important to gain support.