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The Boring Palestinians

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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
If this were a TV drama, it would be ‘The X-Files’ in its 46th season

Sufian Abu Zaida is a well-known Palestinian nationalist who worked closely with Yasser Arafat and sits on the Fatah Revolutionary Council, the ostensible legislative branch of the Palestinian Authority’s ostensible ruling party. Though he spent years in Israeli prison on terrorism charges, he has long been considered a relative moderate for his participation in various peace initiatives.

These days Mr. Abu Zaida is an unhappy camper, but not because of the Israelis.

“Honestly, no one ever dreamt we would reach this situation of concentration of authorities and senior positions in the hands of one person,” he wrote about Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in a recent op-ed published on several Palestinian websites.

“The President today is the President of everything that has to do with the Palestinian people and the Palestinian cause. He is the president of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the State of Palestine and the Palestinian Authority. He is the president of the Fatah movement and general leader of the [security] Forces. And as the legislative council is now suspended, he issues laws and has practically replaced the council.”

Mr. Abu Zaida goes on to complain of the pervasive toadyism among Palestinian ministers and officials, their “impotence and fear” in the face of Mr. Abbas’s every decision and appointment. “One of the main reasons that made President Abbas a natural candidate after President Arafat passed away is that many had thought Abbas’s management would be different than Arafat’s,” he notes. Yet now the president “holds authorities that Arafat in all his greatness and symbolic importance didn’t hold.”

Oh, well: Just another aging strongman in another squalid Mideast dictatorship. What else is new? It isn’t going to keep John Kerry — a fool on a fool’s errand—from making his sixth visit in as many months to try to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. It won’t keep the Palestinian Chorus from its weekly hymnals of pity and cant.

And yet for all its presumed importance, the Palestinian saga has gotten awfully boring, hasn’t it? The grievances that remain unchanged, a cast of characters that never alters, the same schematics, the clichés that were shopworn decades ago. If it were a TV drama, it would be “The X-Files”—in its 46th season. The truth is out there. Still. We get it. We just don’t give a damn anymore.

Little wonder that when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was interviewed over the weekend by CBS’s Bob Schieffer, the topics were Iran, Egypt and Syria, with no mention of Palestinians. Granted, news is a fickle business and what bleeds leads, but the omission was telling all the same. The region is moving tumultuously forward. Israel is dynamic, threatened, divided, innovative, evolving. Egypt careens between revolution and restoration. Lebanon is on the brink, Iran is on the march, Syria is in its agony. America is beating a retreat.

Only the Palestinians remain trapped in ideological amber. How long can the world be expected to keep staring at this four-million-year-old mosquito?

For the usual stalwarts and diehards, the answer will always be: as long as it takes. Palestinians will say it’s on account of their supposedly unique experience of injustice and oppression. Professional peace processors think it’s because of the supposed centrality of the Palestinian drama to all other Middle Eastern conflicts. The Israeli left and its sympathizers in the West are convinced that Palestine is the key to Israel’s survival as a Jewish and democratic state.

All of which is stale bread. Take the most jaundiced view of Israeli behavior toward the Palestinians over the past dozen years: Does it hold a candle to what Bashar Assad does in any given week to his own people in Homs and Aleppo? Take the most exaggerated view of the dearness of Palestine to Egyptians on the streets of Cairo or Turks in the squares of Istanbul: How does their sympathy for Gaza compare with their outrage toward their own governments?

As for the view that Israel needs to separate itself from Palestinians for its own good, that’s as true as it is beside the point. The issue for Israel isn’t whether it has a theoretical interest in a Palestinian state. It does.

But everything hinges on whether such a state evolves into another Costa Rica—or descends into another Yemen. So far the evidence points toward Yemen. Is it any wonder that, given the choice between a long-term moral threat to their character as a state and a near-term physical threat to their existence as a nation, ordinary Israelis should be more concerned with the latter?

Two days after the publication of Mr. Abu Zaida’s op-ed, WAFA, the official Palestinian news agency, carried a rebuttal signed only by “The Security Establishment.” It denounced Mr. Abu Zaida for serving “a foreign agenda” and being a tool of “enemy media.” Then it sang Mr. Abbas’s praises in a style worthy of Egyptian state media under Hosni Mubarak.

It was a characteristically thuggish performance, which unwittingly proved Mr. Abu Zaida’s point. If Palestinians want to be interesting again, and worthy of decent respect, they could start by not playing to tin-pot type.

Mr. Stephens is the deputy editorial page editor responsible for the international opinion pages of The Wall Street Journal. He also writes “Global View,” the paper’s weekly foreign-affairs column, and is a member of the Journal’s editorial board. He is a regular panelist on The Journal Editorial Report, a weekly political talk show carried by Fox News Channel.

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