In a single phone call to his man in Geneva, Mahmoud Abbas has demonstrated his disregard for popular action, and his lack of faith in its accumulative power and the place of mass movements in processes of change.
For nine months, thousands of people – Palestinians, their supporters abroad and Israeli anti-occupation activists – toiled to ensure that the legacy of Israel's military offensive against Gaza would not be consigned to the garbage bin of occupying nations obsessed with their feelings of superiority.
Thanks to the Goldstone report, even in Israel voices began to stammer about the need for an independent inquiry into the assault. But shortly after Abbas was visited by the American consul-general on Thursday, the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization got on the phone to instruct his representative on the United Nations Human Rights Council to ask his colleagues to postpone the vote on the adoption of the report's conclusions.
Heavy American pressure and the resumption of peace negotiations were the reasons for Abbas' move, it was said. Palestinian spokespeople spun various versions over the weekend in an attempt to make the move kosher, explaining that it was not a cancelation but a six-month postponement that Abbas was seeking.
Will the American and European representatives in Geneva support the adoption of the report in six months' time? Will Israel heed international law in the coming months, stop building in the settlements and announce immediate negotiations on their dismantlement and the establishment of a Palestinian state in the occupied territories? Is this what adoption of the report would have endangered? Of course not.
A great deal of political folly and short-sightedness was bared by that phone call, on the eve of Hamas's celebration of its victory in securing the release of 20 female prisoners. Precisely on that day, Abbas put Gaza in the headlines within the context of the PLO's defeatism and of spitting in the face of the victims of the attack – that is how they felt in Gaza and elsewhere.
Abbas confirmed in fact that Hamas is the real national leadership, and gave ammunition to those who claim that its path – the path of armed struggle – yields results that negotiations do not.
This was not an isolated gaffe, but a pattern that has endured since the PLO leadership concocted, together with naive Norwegians and shrewd Israeli lawyers, the Oslo Accords. Disregard for, and lack of interest in the knowledge and experience accumulated in the inhabitants of the occupied territories' prolonged popular struggle led to the first errors: the absence of an explicit statement that the aim was the establishment of a state within defined borders, not insisting on a construction freeze in the settlements, forgetting about the prisoners, endorsing the Area C arrangement, etc.
The chronic submissiveness is always explained by a desire to "make progress." But for the PLO and Fatah, progress is the very continued existence of the Palestinian Authority, which is now functioning more than ever before as a subcontractor for the IDF, the Shin Bet security service and the Civil Administration.
This is a leadership that has been convinced that armed struggle – certainly in the face of Israeli military superiority – cannot bring independence. And indeed, the disastrous repercussions of the Second Intifada are proof of this position. This is a leadership that believes in negotiation as a strategic path to obtaining a state and integration in the world that the United States is shaping.
But in such a world there is personal gain that accrues from chronic submissiveness – benefits enjoyed by the leaders and their immediate circles. This personal gain shapes the tactics.
Is the choice really only between negotiations and armed-struggle theater, the way the Palestinian leadership makes it out to be? No.
The true choice is between negotiations as part of a popular struggle anchored in the language of the universal culture of equality and rights, and negotiations between business partners with the junior partner submissively expressing his gratitude to the senior partner for his generosity.