The State Department’s Secret: Does Abbas Talk Peace in Arabic?

PA Minister Mahmoud Al-Habbash: “In less than two years, the Prophet returned and based on this treaty, he conquered Mecca. This is the example, this is the model.”

— by Toby Klein Greenwald

David Makovsky, on leave from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, was recently named to the State Department’s Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiating team. Makovsky will be a senior adviser to Martin Indyk, who leads the team.

Makovsky, when asked a number of questions regarding his own writing and views on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, replied that he cannot have any contact with journalists, and referred me to a State Department official.

In an article Makovsky published in The Atlantic last January, he wrote:

President Abbas has also appeared recently on Israeli television, stating that he renounced any personal “right of return” to his home town of Safed — and that Palestine today means the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, but not pre-1967 Israel, “now and forever.”

The U.S. should ask him to repeat those assurances, along with his public disagreement with Hamas about its rejection of the principle of peace with Israel.

Therefore, my first question was:

Has Abbas, in fact, ever made these assurances in Arabic? Or disagreed with Hamas in Arabic? And what about the fact that the focus of the Palestinians’ plan of action is on the “right of return” to the area of Israel, as opposed to living in the West Bank?

The State Department official, in lieu of Makovsky, replied, “Regarding that first question, I will have to talk to my colleagues; I need a little bit longer. It will take some research.”

After several days and phone and e-mail reminders, I did receive the following answer:

Unfortunately we have no additional comment…

The fact that a State Department official cannot (or will not) give answers to this critical question may indicate that there is a gap between the wishes of the U.S. government regarding the Palestinians’ plans, and the reality on the ground.

Full interview after the jump.
Q: What are the implications, for the peace process, of the ongoing praise on the Palestinian Authority (PA) television for those who murder Jews, and Abbas’ glorification of released terrorists?

The U.S. Government is committed to anti-incitement efforts. From Secretary Kerry on down and throughout the State Department, we take incitement seriously, recognize it is a serious issue and are working to combat it in order to achieve peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.  

We have consistently called on all parties to refrain from provocative rhetoric that only serves to raise tensions. Such hateful rhetoric has no place in the region.

Q: Since the term of Abbas actually ended four years ago, and the last Palestinian election, in January 2006, witnessed the Hamas victory in the entire PA, what guarantee do we have that any agreement that Abbas reaches will be honored by the Palestinian population?

Achieving a final status agreement is what the parties are working toward. It is up to both parties to determine the steps they need to take once they achieve that goal, but we know that we have a lot of work to do before we get to that point.

Beyond this, I am not going to comment on internal Palestinian politics or their political process and would refer you to the parties.

Q: What about the precedent of Gaza attacks on the rest of Israel, once the IDF retreated from Gaza? Do you fear that if the IDF withdraws from areas on the high ground in Jenin and Ramallah, they will become staging grounds for rocket attacks on Gush Dan, including the Ben Gurion International Airport?

Security is paramount, especially to the Israeli people as they contemplate taking calculated risks for peace. The outcome of these negotiations needs to leave both sides feeling more secure, not less.

General Allen has been working as an adviser to the Secretary of Defense focusing on security in the context of Middle East Peace. He has been working closely on the ground with his Israeli counterparts to support our comprehensive efforts to find a way forward that meets the legitimate security needs of Israel.

Q: What is your realistic assessment of the outcome of the current peace talks?

We remain focused on our goal: achieving a final status agreement on all the core issues between the parties which resolves the conflict, ends all claims and creates peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.

The President spoke to what we are striving for in his address to the U.N. General Assembly:

The children of Israel have the right to live in a world where the nations assembled in this body fully recognize their country, and where we unequivocally reject those who fire rockets at their homes or incite others to hate them…

The United States remains committed to the belief that the Palestinian people have a right to live with security and dignity in their own sovereign state.

The author is the editor in chief of


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