The cycle of violence in Gaza might not be as brutal as what is happening in Syria or Iraq, but its repercussions for regional stability and peace are far greater. The main loser in this war, in addition to those whose lives have been prematurely ended, is the chance of peace between Palestine and Israel under Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Mr. Abbas, who has been the Palestinian leader to most consistently reject violence, a military intifada and Gaza-based rockets, will likely retire after Aug. 4, the date his Fatah movement is scheduled to hold its seventh general congress in Ramallah. The new leaders, most likely representing a younger generation that has lived under Israeli rule most of their lives, will probably present a much tougher negotiating posture than the Palestinian architect of the 1993 Oslo Accords.
Mr. Abbas has been unswerving in his efforts to clean up incitement on the official Palestinian TV channels, denounced the Holocaust and told Israelis he doesn’t want to flood them with Palestinian refugees. He worked hard to ensure that a culture of peace and tolerance exists in Palestine. He has regularly met with Israelis of all walks of life and was a featured participant in the recent Haaretz conference for peace. At that event, Mr. Abbas reaffirmed his support for the Arab peace plan and showed his commitment to normal and peaceful relations with Israel: “As the president of the Palestinian people I am totally committed to the vision of a two-state solution, normalization and peace with our neighbor — Israel.”
The Abbas legacy is being negated with every bomb that falls on the innocent civilians of Gaza. The Israeli war on Gaza began with an unproven accusation that the Gaza-based Hamas leadership was behind the heinous crime near Hebron that led to the death of three Israeli settlers. Israel’s retaliation, based on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s yet-to-be-verified claim, included arresting hundreds of Palestinians without charge in the West Bank, including elected parliamentarians, demolishing two Palestinian homes and bombing Gaza. When Gazans countered with largely amateur rockets, Israel responded in a disproportionate way.
While Israel’s declared aim is to stop the projectiles coming from Gaza, the real goal is political: to destroy the peace process that Mr. Abbas has staunchly supported despite being attacked by Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims. The May reconciliation agreement between Hamas and the Palestine Liberation Organization was Mr. Abbas’ way of ending Hamas’ rule through the most civilized of all means: new, overdue elections for president and the legislative council. Mr. Abbas has repeatedly insisted that he has no plans to run for president again.
Israel was the first to attack the national unity government, despite the fact that Hamas was not represented in it. The international community welcomed this government, which publicly accepted the conditions of the “quartet” of the United Nations, European Union, United States and Russia that it recognize Israel and accept previously signed agreements.
The reconciliation agreement was rejected not only by Israel but also by some radical elements in Palestine that didn’t want to see the Abbas-led peace process work. The monstrous act against the three Israelis, who were kidnapped in areas under Israeli control, played to Palestinian public sentiment that has been shaped by hundreds of Palestinian prisoners on a two-month hunger strike protesting being held without trial or charge.
The kidnapping was publicly denounced by Mr. Abbas, who vowed to try to help find the perpetrators and declared continuous support for Palestinian-Israeli security coordination. Mr. Abbas was harshly attacked for making this statement, which he delivered to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, yet he continued to support security coordination and received support from the PLO executive committee. Israeli public sentiment included chants by Israeli mobs of “death to Arabs.” This was followed by the abduction and burning alive of a Palestinian from Jerusalem, Mohammad Abu Khieder, and the shelling of Gaza.
When violence broke out during a previous Israeli government, the need for moderates to unite against radicals was best expressed by Yitzhak Rabin, who said, “Fight terrorism as if there is no peace process and pursue peace as if there is no terrorism.” Unfortunately, the current Israeli government is not interested in uniting with peace-loving leaders such as Mahmoud Abbas to provide both people with a political horizon and a reason to hope for a better future. The result is the endless bloody cycle we are seeing today, in which not only lives are taken but also a real chance for peace is being demolished.
Daoud Kuttar is a columnist with Al-Monitor and the former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University. He wrote this for The Washington Post.