A man humiliated
The decision by Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, not to run for re-election next year looks like the act of a man who has reached the end of his political tether. He is the principal Palestinian advocate of a negotiated two-state peace agreement with Israel. If he stands by his threat to quit it could deal a devastating blow to that process, if not destroy it.
It is possible that Mr Abbas is bluffing, using the threat of his resignation as a negotiating tactic. But there can be no doubt that recent actions by the US administration and Israel have left him humiliated, and destroyed what remained of his credibility with his Palestinian people and his Fatah party.
The final straw came last week when Hillary Clinton, US secretary of state, praised Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, for "restraint", and appeared to support Israel's refusal to halt the expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank as a pre-condition for peace talks.
It followed two other recent events that badly undermined the Palestinian leader with his domestic constituency. In New York he was forced into a very public handshake with Mr Netanyahu at their meeting with Barack Obama, US president. But most damaging was when he bowed to US pressure to delay his endorsement of the report by Judge Richard Goldstone on war crimes during Israel's onslaught on Gaza – and then reversed his decision under furious attack from his own ministers.
Mr Abbas's position has been steadily eroded over time because he has absolutely nothing to show for his years of pursuing a peace strategy based on a negotiated settlement – except for expanded Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land.
If a figure such as Mr Abbas cannot survive in the present climate, then he is likely to be replaced by a far more radical and uncompromising leadership. No Palestinian leader can or will negotiate while Israeli colonisation of the West Bank continues. Mr Netanyahu's refusal to call a halt to expanding settlements means in effect there will be no two-state solution.
If that is so, then the prospect is for a long and bitter fight for equal rights within one state. That would spell the end of Israel as a democratic Jewish state. It would come to resemble in many ways the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. If Mr Netanyahu believes that he has achieved a victory by refusing to halt the settlements, he is wrong. It is more like a project of national suicide.
The Financial Times Limited 2009.