With the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas meeting with President Trump at the White House this week, it’s clear that the administration is hoping to renew peace negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel.
So many past talks have failed, and the two parties seem as far apart as ever, but the unpredictability factor of Trump makes this effort intriguing. The Palestinians may be fearful enough of the consequences of ignoring or defying the president that they agree to meet with Israel. In advance of the White House meeting, Abbas has put his own pressure on Hamas, his rival in Gaza, by cutting salaries to state employees there and stopping payment for electricity (which Israel provides). In seeking to regain control of Gaza, he may be hoping to assure Washington that his PA speaks for all Palestinians, as it claims.
Hamas, though, is not about to cede authority. Still committed to violence against Israel, it is seeking to moderate its image through a new document that tones down its anti-Semitic language and appears to accept some form of provisional Palestinian state.
The real question, though, is whether the PA and Hamas, separately or together, are willing to live alongside a Jewish state. There is no reason to think their determined opposition to such a prospect, resulting in rejecting several Israeli initiatives, has changed.
Hamas continues to insist on the right of return, and refers to acts of terror as resistance. As for the PA, two indicators of its true sentiments are its attitude toward those who commit terror acts against Israelis, and what it teaches its children about their Jewish neighbors. The Palestinian Media Watch (PMW), an important watchdog group in Israel, citing a PA official, points out that even as the PA cuts payments to its workers in Gaza, it continues to pay “terrorist prisoners, including murderers, and released terrorists who will continue receiving their full salaries.” And killers of Israeli civilians are still hailed in the Palestinian media as martyrs, with streets and parks named after them.
Further, though the PA says it has responded to complaints by scaling back its anti-Semitic textbooks, reports by PMW and other groups found that the new Palestinian curriculum still teaches children to glorify terrorism against Israel.
The textbook issue goes back two dozen years to early post-Oslo agreement meetings, when Israel, backed by the U.S., insisted on revisions to the materials Palestinian children were taught in school. Nothing came of it. And nothing will change today until there are tangible signs that Palestinian leaders are prepared to accept reality.