Abbas’s recognition that the Holocaust was a ‘heinous crime’ was a goodwill gesture Netanyahu is ungracious to spurn

If progress is ever to be made towards ending the conflict, this dialogue has to stop



Mahmoud Abbas’s resonant statement at the weekend, calling the Holocaust “the most heinous crime to have occurred against humanity in the modern era”, is extremely welcome. Although its publication on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day looks like political calculation, the American rabbi Marc Schneier, to whom Mr Abbas unburdened himself during a meeting in Ramallah last week, maintains it was “very heartfelt, very genuine”.

For decades, both sides in the unending Israel-Palestine conflict have found justification in their own unique sufferings for the pain they inflict on the other. Israel’s creation of a garrison state and its illegal occupation of the West Bank, which has now lasted nearly half a century, is excused by the necessity of preventing another genocide; while the recourse of Palestinians to violence against Israeli civilians is justified by Israel’s bloody seizure of the Palestinian lands. If progress is ever to be made towards ending the conflict, this dialogue of the deaf has to stop. Mr Abbas’s gesture of conciliation – his recognition of the historical nightmare which the Jews so recently left behind – is as rare as it is welcome.

His timing, however, was curious. Although the US deadline for progress on the peace talks expires tomorrow, events of the past week indicate that they are already dead: Mr Abbas’s agreement with Hamas to work towards a unity government was quickly greeted by the Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu as reason to call the whole thing off. “Does he want peace with Hamas, or peace with Israel?” he asked. “You can have one but not the other.”

The alacrity and finality of this put-down by Mr Netanyahu was a reminder of the relative strengths of the two sides in this ever-unequal struggle. Israel’s economy is booming; Palestine’s is on life support; the US’s backing for Israel is as strong as ever while Hamas has been severely damaged by the witch-hunt against the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and Mr Abbas’s own democratic credentials are threadbare.

Barack Obama recently told Mr Netanyahu that the status quo is “unsustainable”. “There comes a point,” he said, “when you can’t manage this any more … Do you resign yourself to what amounts to a permanent occupation of the West Bank?” To which the candid answer by Israel would be “Yes”: after 46 years and the relentless march of Israeli settlements, that is precisely what Israel can resign itself to. That is why Mr Netanyahu felt free to snap Mr Abbas’s olive branch and throw it in his face. “Instead of issuing statements designed to placate global public opinion,” he said, “[Mr Abbas] needs to choose between the alliance with Hamas … and a true peace with Israel.”

What a golden opportunity for generosity Mr Netanyahu missed. There are plenty of men and women of goodwill on both sides. With Hamas politically weakened, and Mr Abbas saying the previously unsayable, an Israeli leader of a higher calibre could have made something of the Fatah’s leader’s initiative. Instead Mr Netanyahu ground it under his foot.

Even this close to the deadline, all may not be lost. Mr Netanyahu said he appreciated John Kerry’s “unbelievable efforts” to bring the two sides together. From the EU’s foreign affairs office, Baroness Ashton expressed her extreme concern at recent developments and called upon both sides to “remain committed to the two-state solution”. The probable and depressing outcome of these talks is another failure, but there remains a slim window of opportunity to salvage them. One more heave please, Mr Kerry.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next

The Interview cancelled: From supporting the Ku Klux Klan to appeasing the Nazis, Hollywood has a rich history of caving in

Boyd Tonkin
A female US soldier eats breakfast while on tour in Afghanistan  

All’s fair in love and war? Not until female soldiers can join the men on the front line

Rosie Millard
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas