Note to the West: Abbas Will Never Sign a Peace Deal

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas listens through headphones to Chancellor Angela Merkel (unseen) at the Chancellery in Berlin, on April 19. Elliott Abrams writes that Abbas lacks charisma and wears a suit and tie, unlike Yasser Arafat, but those qualities should not be mistaken for any intention to sign a peace deal. Hannibal Hanschke/reuters

This article first appeared on the Council on Foreign Relations site.

Since leaving the White House in January 2009, I've been telling audiences that Palestinian president and PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas will never, never sign a peace agreement with Israel–no matter what its content.

Those still in doubt might reflect on the events of this week. Abbas and Israel's president, Reuven Rivlin, were both in Brussels, and European Parliament President Martin Schulz thought it would be nice to get them together.

Rivlin's post is ceremonial, but that's all the more reason for a ceremonial gesture toward reconciliation. Abbas simply refused. Rabin could shake the hand of Yasser Arafat, but Abbas could not shake the hand of the ex-parliamentarian, now president, Rivlin.

Abbas and Rivlin both spoke to the European Parliament, where Abbas demonstrated yet again how close to signing a peace deal he is. He reported that Israel had cut off water to the West Bank for Ramadan in order to harm Palestinians, a charge the Palestinian Ministry of Information continues to repeat.

The most remarkable line was this one:

The Palestinian people have experienced mass murder on an historic scale and unparalleled attacks under the eyes and ears of the international community, which gives Israel immunity. The Palestinians are going through dark days and live under the tyranny and racism of the occupation. Just a week ago, several rabbis in Israel asked their government to poison the water in order to kill the Palestinians.

Poisoning the wells: This medieval libel against Jews still lives, we see, in the Palestinian president's rhetoric. And as to "mass murder," there is plenty of it in his neighborhood, not least in Syria where perhaps 500,000 Muslims have been murdered. Among them are Palestinians, who lived there in camps. But of all that he had of course nothing to say.

Abbas has benefited greatly by comparison to his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, and Arafat's record of corruption and terror. But the Palestinian Authority under Abbas is compiling its own record of corruption, and while Abbas continues to denounce terror in every speech, his Palestinian Authority continues to honor and celebrate those who kill Israelis.

Abbas lacks charisma and he wears a suit and tie, unlike Arafat, but those qualities should not be mistaken for any intention ever to sign a peace deal.

Abbas has now ruled far longer than Arafat, and the Israelis and Palestinians are no closer to peace. His refusal to meet with Rivlin and his despicable speech this week are reminders that he spurned Ehud Olmert's peace offer in 2008 and refused the efforts of President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry to bring him to the peace table.

So my views have not changed since 2009: Abbas will never sign a peace agreement. Life in the West Bank can be made better, Israel and the Palestinian Authority can move toward improved relations, terrorism can be fought, Palestinian autonomy can be negotiated, but there will be no peace negotiated by Mahmoud Abbas.

The sooner Western governments come to grips with this fact, the sooner pragmatic approaches to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can advance.

Elliott Abrams is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.