The Palestinian prime minister is an obstacle to peace, an active saboteur of any cooperation with Israel.
I sensed that Palestinian businessman and politician Mohammad Shtayyeh would be an obstacle to peace when I first met him in 2013. He came to a brief a Jewish leadership delegation at the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem, and swiftly let loose a barrage of accusations against Israel.
He lost my sympathies with a harangue about “settler swimming pools” in Judea and Samaria that “were stealing the Palestinian Authority’s water.”
When he was challenged by a Canadian Jewish leader about some of his more blatant and easily disproven lies, Shtayyeh threw a hissy fit, turning red with anger, banging on the table, and spitting out his disdain for “Zionist apologists.”
Shttayeh wouldn’t let up even when the session ended. He came after me and my colleague on the sidelines, still smoking and fuming. Saved on my home computer is a photo of Shtayyeh jabbing my chest with his finger, insisting that the Israeli occupation of the West Bank was as evil as Nazi occupations in World War II.
That was in 2013. Since becoming prime minister of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in 2019, Mohammad Shtayyeh has gone from bad to worse; from a brake on peacemaking efforts to an active saboteur of any cooperation with Israel; from a minor Palestinian propagandist to a major, malicious defamer of Israel.
Shttayeh is the father figure of the Palestinian “no cooperation with Israel” policy. He tells every international interlocuter that he wants complete Palestinian economic disengagement from Israel. No cooperation and no integration.
Shtayyeh even rejected Israeli assistance in battling the corona virus in the West Bank. (Israeli hospitals that offer training to Palestinian doctors are forced to operate on the sly, without PA involvement or backing.)
This also mean no PA cooperation with Israel in critical infrastructure matters like water management and sewage disposal. As a result, tens of thousands of tons of Palestinian waste flow freely every month into the streams and valleys of Judea and Samaria, seeping into and polluting the underground mountain aquifers.
And how to explain the PA’s continuing dire economic straits, even though Shtayyeh was brought in four years ago (as an economist, former economic development minister, and Islamic Bank governor) to help reform and repair the situation?
Well, Shtayyeh has a pat and ready answer to this, any place, and any time: It is Israel’s fault. The “occupation” prevents the growth of the Palestinian economy, and Israel “steals” PA funds. Israel “loots” the Palestinian Authority, Shtayyeh told a recent delegation of students from Harvard University.
According to Mohammad Shtayyeh, you see, the PA’s dire economic straits have nothing to do with endemic corruption, massive waste, kleptocratic and pigheaded economic policies (such as non-cooperation with Israel), and so forth.
By “stealing PA funds,” Shtayyeh means that Israel “arrogantly” deducts from PA customs duties the amount of money that the PA pays to the families of Palestinian terrorists – payments widely referred to as “pay for slay.”
In fact, Shtayyeh consistently glorifies and praises Palestinian terrorist attacks and the activities of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. He issues mourning notices for Palestinians killed while carrying out attacks, and visits their mourning tents to offer his condolences to their families. In fact, as far as I can tell, Shtayyeh never has condemned terrorist attacks in which Israelis were killed!
(PA President Mahmoud Abbas, by contrast, sometimes issues weak statements after terrorist attacks, expressing sorrow at the killing of “civilians on both sides.”)
Shtayyeh exploits every possible opportunity to stress that despite the PA’s economic distress, it will continue giving financial support to the families of Palestinian prisoners and of those killed while carrying out terrorist attacks. (Shtayyeh’s pay scale rewards the most heinous acts of terrorism with larger disbursements.)
For example, in April Shtayyeh visited the home of Umm Nasser Abu Hamid. One of her sons murdered an IDF soldier in the al-Am’ari refugee camp in Ramallah by throwing a marble slab on his head from a rooftop. Five of her other sons are serving prison terms in Israel for involvement in terrorist attacks.
Shtayyeh praised Umm Nasser Abu Hamid as “representing the mothers of Palestinian prisoners defending their sons imprisoned in Israel and representing their cause to the Palestinian people, part of their struggle for freedom.” Basically, he called her a role model.
According to a horrifying profile of Shtayyeh published this week by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, Shtayyeh’s anti-Israeli rhetoric has become ever more malevolent and extreme, year by year.
Shtayyeh’s standard and default discourse is now that Israel is an “apartheid country,” and a “state that carries out daily war crimes.” In many instances he does not use the word “Israel,” but rather the derogatory terms “the occupation” or “Zionist forces.”
He actively promotes lawfare against Israel, working with international organizations to bring Israeli leadership to criminal trial. He constantly is feeding investigations by the International Criminal Court, and recently appealed to the International Red Cross to open its archives for material to support the PA’s claims against Israel “going back to the Nakba in 1948.”
He also regularly calls for the international community to impose sanctions against Israel. When South Africa pushed in February for the suspension of Israel from observer status in the African Union, Shtayyeh was fulsome in his praise.
When meeting in Ramallah last week with the visiting Dutch foreign minister, Wopke Hoekstra, Shtayyeh blabbered about “Israeli escalation, killings, and detentions” and its “violent incursions into the Temple Mount compound,” and he called for pressure on Israel to hand over the bodies of slain Palestinian terrorists.”
Another one of Shtayyeh’s favorite calumnies is the demand for so-called Palestinian “right of return to all Palestinian towns taken from us in 1948.”
“There are 6.4 million refugees waiting for the right of return,” he constantly reminds foreign ambassadors and other dignitaries. “We will remain committed and loyal to our principles including the full right of return,” Shtayyeh said on ‘Nakba Day’ last week. “We will continue to fight for them until they are all accomplished.”
“Fighting,” in fact, is one of Shtayyeh’s much-loved words. He is out to “fight and defeat” Israel, not to lead his people into a negotiated compromise peace with Israel. Certainly not to join the Abraham Accords bandwagon and advance a discourse of reconciliation and understanding. And certainly not to do anything to improve quality of life for the average Palestinian.
(By average, I mean any Palestinian not connected by privilege to the teats of the crooked Palestinian government that Shtayyeh heads.)
Those of us who pray for maturity and moderation in the Palestinian national movement, and for compassion and compromise in Israeli-Palestinian affairs, must hope that Mohammad Shtayyeh is sidelined, the sooner the better. Naturally, that goes for his octogenarian colleague-in-crime, Mahmoud Abbas, too.