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Mahmoud Abbas and his negotiations

By Abdel Halim Qandil

There is no rational explanation for Palestinian Authority officials to continue in negotiations with the Israelis, whether direct or indirect, because there is no benefit for the Palestinians in what is clearly a miserable process. The benefits for the Israelis are obvious, as they give them the time to establish yet more geographic and demographic “facts on the ground” across the occupied territories, particularly in Jerusalem. The Israelis are unequivocal about this, with the Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, saying repeatedly that there is no chance of a Palestinian state being established within the next two years. He has not said what will happen after that period. In the meantime, more Israeli military adventures against Lebanon, Gaza or Iran may be on the cards, followed by more re-hashing of the maps by Tel Aviv and then open-ended leave for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas who appears to be lost.


In a recent interview with Israeli journalists invited to his office in Ramallah, the President said, “I am no longer young, I do not know my successor, I have already negotiated with Olmert, and reached the stage of exchanging maps, and handed the maps to George Mitchell, but Netanyahu does not pay attention to them. I have guaranteed security in the West Bank, which is in my interests as well, but something is not moving.” Abbas appeared to be seeking sympathy from the journalists; they, in turn, regard him as an “available whenever needed” interviewee. If Abbas didn’t exist, they would have to invent him.

The Palestinian President has been heading for the exit door for a long time and there is nothing on the horizon that looks likely to renew what is regarded as his faux legitimacy; he doesn’t even know the date of the next Palestinian elections. As a weak leader, he is, of course, exactly what Israel wants, not least because he exacerbates his own weakness by rejecting outright any resistance to the illegal occupation of his land or any popular uprising, thus depriving his people of any negotiating leverage. This, of course, is to get US political support and sympathy, as well as American government subventions. His whole purpose now appears to be hinged on getting more money to buy support amongst Palestinians, building rootless power structures and then having negotiations for the mere sake of having negotiations. When asked by the Israeli journalists if he has a Plan B in the case of the negotiations failing, Abbas replied that the Arab League was considering an appeal to the UN Security Council; he is not so sure about such an appeal, “which could jeopardise the agreements between us and the Israelis”.

Is it not odd that President Abbas is already despairing about the negotiations which haven’t really restarted yet? Is it not odd that he announced that he was going to resign, but he is still in office? (Israel can’t afford to let him go; a suitably pliant successor is not yet lined up.) The same journalists pushed him to elaborate on his old opinion about the Holocaust; never one to seize the chance to ask them in return about the ethnic cleansing and genocidal policies of Israel towards the Palestinians, he replied meekly, “You say that there were six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust… OK”.

Abbas seems to be preoccupied with getting the Israelis to focus on him: “Look at me! I’m still here and I deserve your sympathy!” The Israelis, meanwhile, are looking at another kind of negotiations, to get their soldier Gilad Shalit released from Gaza after four years in captivity.

Tens of thousands took to the streets of Jerusalem in an attempt to press Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government to obtain the release of the soldier, whose father, Noam Shalit, has been turned into a media star in the Jewish state. Opinion polls show a majority in favour of releasing one thousand Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Sergeant Shalit, including those who had been imprisoned for guerrilla operations against Israel. Even though former ministers have been involved in the “Free Shalit” campaign, Netanyahu’s response is that he wants the soldier to be freed, “but not at any price”. Leaks about a revival of Germany’s mediation for a possible prisoner exchange have been met with a response from Hamas that Israel knows what the price is if it wants Shalit to walk free.

There is an interesting paradox here. Hamas, which neither negotiates directly with Israel nor meets with US peace envoy George Mitchell, is the party of most interest to the Israeli government; Abbas looks increasingly like yesterday’s man, his position reduced to a PR role, meeting with Hosni Mubarak at Sharm el-Sheikh, waiting for visits by George Mitchell, and so on. He is allowed to express his dissatisfaction with the Israeli settlements in Jerusalem, but must not cross the red line drawn by the Israelis. Living on false hope, Abbas expects the US Cavalry to ride to his rescue, with President Obama persuading Netanyahu to offer the Palestinian Authority some crumbs. Obama, of course, is more concerned about the upcoming mid-term elections and gaining the trust of the Jewish lobby, hence his regular reaffirmation of Washington’s commitment to Israel’s security and the focus on US-Israel plans to tackle Hamas, Hezbollah and the Iranian nuclear programme. Prior to last week’s Obama-Netanyahu meeting at the White House, General Michael Mullen, the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff had visited Tel Aviv for the thirteenth time within the past few months to discuss plans for the next war; there was no place for Abbas at the table for those discussions.

Mahmoud Abbas is facing a real dilemma, manufactured almost entirely by himself since his first involvement with the Israelis and the Americans in the siege of late-President Arafat’s Ramallah compound. Taking over Arafat’s role in Fatah and the PA, and denuding the Authority of any national substance, turning it instead into a framework to ease Israel’s burdens and costs of the occupation and an extension of Israeli security apparatus, Abbas has been on a slippery slope to nowhere. He polished off what remained of the Fatah movement whose charter called for the “liberation of Palestine from the river [Jordan] to the sea”. Fatah has been turned into something else, its leaders too busy disputing with Salam Fayyad, a former World Bank official, and competing for jobs, salaries and allowances to be able to tackle the real issues and problems facing the Palestinian people. Their President resolves internal conflicts by issuing cheques, replaces genuine resistance to the occupation with jobs for the boys, and controls the “Palestinian National Fund”.

Just as the Oslo accords provided an example of a complex maze with areas overlapping between self-rule and occupation, so too has Abbas been trapped in another maze. Whereas the late Yasser Arafat was excellent at political manoeuvres, he left behind him a Fatah movement with the legacy of Oslo; this led to Fatah’s virtual retirement from the scene. The worst-case scenario is the fate of Abbas, who seems reluctant to take on anything relevant to Fatah’s role in the resistance, and wishes merely to open the gates to the Israelis in return for a negotiator’s job, until his soul has returned to his Creator and Jerusalem is engulfed by Israel.

The author is an Egyptian writer and politician

Source: Alquds Al Arabi

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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