Speaking at a meeting of the Islamic Cooperation Organization in Jeddah on Wednesday, Abbas said, “The three young men are human beings just like us and must be returned to their families.”
What makes Abba’s comments in Jeddah so commendable is the fact that he made them in Arabic and he made them despite their lack of popularity among many Arabs and Palestinians.
Indeed, at least some Israeli Arabs seem to believe that the kidnapping was a legitimate act of resistance against Israel, judging from comments made this week by one of their representatives in the Knesset, Balad MK Haneen Zoabi.
Moderate Palestinians who spoke with The Jerusalem Post this week, such as Nidal Fuqaha, the head of the Palestinian Peace Coalition for the Geneva Initiative, said that while the kidnapping hurt Palestinian interests, it nevertheless was seen by many Palestinians as justified – particularly because it was directed against settlers who cause Palestinians “suffering and agony.”
Mustafa Barghouti, head of the Palestinian National Initiative and an advocate of non-violent resistance, said, “There will be no peace until occupation stops. One round of violence will lead to another. Israel has to recognize Palestinians’ right to self-determination. This would have been possible if not for Israel’s settlement policy.”
In other words, for Palestinians the abduction of three young men, particularly if they are settlers or students learning in an institution located in a settlement, is an inevitable and legitimate response to Israeli “aggression.”
Too many prominent non-Palestinians feel the same way.
Ken Roth, head of Human Rights Watch, when commenting on the abduction on his Twitter account, said the following: “Attending school at illegal settlement doesn’t legitimize apparent kidnapping of Israel teens. They should be freed.”
As Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch pointed out, instead of insisting unequivocally that the kidnapping was a blatant transgression of international law, Roth seemed to feel the need to qualify his statement as though there might be something to the claim that terrorism is legitimate when directed against settlers.
Even some leading Israeli pundits have provided excuses for the Palestinians. For instance, Ha’aretz’s leading columnist, Ari Shavit, argued this week that Israel squandered “seven good years” of relative quiet, saying that “The bloody attacks on Israeli cities and even the attacks on the settlements and settlers dramatically diminished.”
Shavit conveniently ignored the hundreds of Kassam rockets and mortar shells shot over these years at communities in the South. He also ignored several incidents of murder, dozens of foiled kidnapping attempts, and hundreds of incidents of rock-throwing and firebombings that have taken place throughout the West Bank.
In any event, according to Shavit, as a result of Israel’s purported intransigence, a vacuum was created. “When there is no movement forward, a backward slide is expected,” he writes. “When there is no peace process, an escalation is expected.”
In essence, what Shavit and other “mainstream” commentators are arguing, along with their Palestinian counterparts, is that as long as Israel refuses to make Judea and Samaria Judenrein or give up the Jewish state’s exclusive control over Jerusalem’s holy sites or accept the Palestinian “right of return,” the logical consequence will inevitably be Palestinian terrorism. It’s as though there is a natural law according to which Palestinians must blow themselves up, kidnap our children, or throw stones and firebombs if they are unable to achieve all their demands through peaceful means.
Abbas’s unequivocal condemnation of the kidnapping was significant precisely because it rejected this premise. No matter what the perceived injustices supposedly perpetrated by Israel, Palestinians are not doomed to resort to kidnappings, suicide bombings, Kassam rockets, and drive-by shootings to achieve their objectives.
If anything, it is Palestinians’ repeated embrace of violent terrorism as a means of achieving strategic goals that has been so devastatingly counterproductive, because it has convinced Israelis that establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel would become an existential danger.
Yahya al-Abadseh, a Hamas legislator in the Gaza Strip, was not so far off the mark when he declared in response to Abbas’s condemnation that the PA president “has placed himself in confrontation with the entire Palestinian people.”
As a leader, Abbas needs to do this more often – until his people start getting the message.