Earlier this week, just in advance of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's visit to Washington, a brief flurry of excitement took hold of the media, as word spread of what appeared to be a major conciliatory gesture by the Palestinians.
In a well-timed leak, the London-based Al-Hayat reported over the weekend that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had offered Israel the Western Wall and the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City as part of a future peace agreement. The proposal, according to the paper, was among several ideas that Abbas had recently submitted in writing to US Mideast negotiator George Mitchell. The rest of eastern Jerusalem, he declared, would serve as the capital of a Palestinian state.
At first glance, Abbas's offer would appear to herald a significant form of progress. After all, the thorny issue of control over Jerusalem and its holy sites has long confounded efforts to reach an accommodation between the two sides. By granting Israel a foothold in the heart of ancient Jerusalem, Abbas would appear to be conceding that the Jewish people can stake a legitimate claim to this very special place.
But a closer look reveals that this Palestinian "concession," like so many others before it, is in fact little more than a hollow and ultimately inconsequential act. And it would be foolish for Israel and its supporters to be duped into thinking otherwise.
TO BEGIN with, how can Abbas offer Israel something we already have? Last time I checked, the Western Wall was safely and securely under our control. Indeed, it was 43 years ago this summer, during the Six Day War, that Israel liberated the site from Jordanian occupation in an act of self-defense.
As everyone knows, the Wall was built by Herod as part of the Temple compound, where the Jewish people were worshiping God two millennia before the PLO was created.
The Western Wall is ours by right and by history, and thank God, it is in Israeli hands. We do not need Abbas or anyone else, for that matter, to give us something we already possess. And we most certainly don't need to view his reported acknowledgment of reality as constituting a "concession" or "gesture" which merits a reciprocal response.
To do so would be to grant the Palestinians a huge advantage at the negotiating table, for it would transform their verbal acceptance of the most basic truths into something that Israel would be expected to pay for with tangible assets."Want us to recognize that Israel has a right to live and breathe?" the Palestinians will ask, "then ante up! Want us to accept that you have a right not to be thrown into the Mediterranean, then give us a down payment."
That is not a recipe for peace, it is a formula for failure.
The Palestinian acceptance of Israel's right to Jerusalem, just like their recognition of Israel's existence, must be viewed as a prerequisite to, rather than a part of, any diplomatic process.
Israel cannot and must not allow Abbas to arrogate to himself the ability to force us into yielding on our positions in exchange for mere words. As it is, his authority barely extends beyond the four corners of his own desk, which is yet another reason not to take his pronouncements all too seriously. But if we place ourselves at the mercy of Abbas's fickle approval, we will most certainly weaken our stance beyond repair.
In any event, the questions raised by the PA leader's dubious generosity quickly became moot. Within 24 hours of the Al-Hayat report, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat went on Israel Radio on Sunday morning to deny that the Palestinians had made any such offer regarding the Western Wall or the Old City. Jerusalem, he insisted, must be under Palestinian control.
So much for Palestinian flexibility.
NOT SURPRISINGLY, amid all this fuss, little attention was paid to the really big story regarding Abbas, who once again revealed his true colors by heaping praise on a mass-murderer. On Saturday, he sent his condolences to the family of Abu Daoud, the mastermind of the terrorist attack against the Israeli team in the 1972 Munich Olympics, who had passed away the day before.
"He is missed," Abbas wrote in his letter to Abu Daoud's relatives, praising the terrorist as "one of the leading figures of Fatah" and thanking him for having "spent his life in resistance and sincere work as well as physical sacrifice for his people's just causes."
Among Abu Daoud's "just causes" was the taking of 11 Israeli Olympians hostage in Munich, all of whom were killed during a failed rescue attempt by German police. "I regret nothing," Abu Daoud told Germany's Spiegel TV in 2006, defiantly adding that "you can only dream that I would apologize."
For Abbas to praise such a man and mourn his passing speaks volumes as to the kind of person he truly is, far more than any supposed gestures he may or may not have made.
So let's stop seeing "concessions" where there aren't any and peacemakers where they do not exist. It should be obvious that from people such as Abbas we require neither recognition nor beneficence. And neither should we fawn all over them to get it.