Skeptical Israeli “Arabist” on Mahmoud Abbas

Just to follow up on my glowing Rosh Hashana endorsement of Mahmoud Abbas, here’s something Ehud Ya’ari told me in March of last year. For those who don’t know, Ya’ari is without challenge the dean of Arab affairs journalists in Israel; he’s been reporting and commenting for the last 15 years or so on Channel 2, and before that for 20-odd years on Channel 1. He’s no Likudnik or fan of the settlements, but he’s extremely skeptical of Palestinian aspirations and quite the security hawk. I’d compare his views to those of Ehud Barak.

In March 2010, he came out with a plan to jumpstart the peace process. I interviewed him for the Jerusalem Post Magazine, and at one point asked him if anything had “surprised” him about the way the peace process had gone since the signing of the Oslo accord (a signing which he said gave him sleepless nights for two weeks). I phrased the question that way because Ehud Ya’ari never struck me as the sort of fellow who acknowledges being surprised by events in his field of expertise. This is how he answered:

Ya’ari says he’s favorably surprised by Arafat’s successor in the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, known as Abu Mazen. “He has more guts than I thought he had. He’s very gutsy in many ways. I’m much more impressed with him that I am with [PA Prime Minister Salam] Fayyad. I’m impressed with Fayyad too, but in different ways. That somebody like Abu Mazen can take such a consistent, public position against violence was a surprise to me. Not that I thought he was in favor of violence, he hasn’t been in favor of violence since Oslo, but that he would take such a public line and order his security chiefs so explicitly to prohibit violence – this is a surprise.”

Anybody who wants to write off Ehud Ya’ari as a radical leftist or babe in the woods is welcome to make a fool of himself. Ditto for anyone who keeps saying that Mahmoud Abbas is out to destroy us.