In his speech at the Forum on Freedom and Peace at the presidential headquarters in Ramallah on Wednesday, in the presence of Israeli politicians, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas went further than ever to reiterate statements that he has made before but which are denied by his supporters.
"I want to meet with the younger generation in Israel," said Abbas, "the generation for whose future we are working in order for them to live in security and stability in this region." Check the video footage if you don't believe that he said this. "In the case of refugees," added the Palestinian Authority leader, "Israeli propaganda says that Abu Mazen [his own paedonym, or kunya] wants to return 5 million refugees to Israel to destroy the State of Israel. This never happened. What we did say is let's put the refugee file on the table, but that we do not want to drown Israel in refugees to change its social makeup."
Abbas accepted that Israel is "very sensitive" about its security. "We understand this. We appreciate that Israel is afraid of the future and of extremism." He then went a step further and suggested that a third party be used to ensure security in the region before saying: "We agree to have NATO as this third party."
In making this speech, Abbas has continued to deal shocks, if not outright blows, to the Palestinian people. This is normal for him, since he entered the trenches against the entire nation when he stood against the Aqsa Intifada after the Camp David Summit in the summer of 2000 and Ariel Sharon's visit to Al-Aqsa Mosque.
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That was the day that Abbas agreed to be the American and Western spearhead in the siege of Yasser Arafat's compound in Ramallah, which paved the way for the then President's assassination. Abbas did not have any qualms about the first PA leader calling him the Palestinian Hamid Karzai. He stood side by side with his current arch-enemy Mohammed Dahlan, who the West had imposed on the Palestinians as a security official, just as it imposed Abbas as Prime Minister with extraordinary power. None of this was enough to remove him from the pool of candidates to succeed Arafat, as the logic of tribes is different to the logic of liberation movements. When a liberation movement becomes a tribe, they cheer for the new chief, regardless of who he is and whatever their past opinion of him.
For years, Abbas has continued to shock the Palestinian people, from describing the armed resistance in the Aqsa Intifada and afterwards as "pointless" to praising the PA's "sacred" security coordination with Israel. He has waged a war on Hamas and the Gaza Strip and insisted on bringing his disastrous experiment in the occupied West Bank to the besieged territory.
On a political level, Abbas's latest speech contained nothing new, although he talked about constants, which allows his partisan tribe to stress his commitment to the national expectations. However, his defeatist rhetoric belies this interpretation.
What is interesting is that the speech came after Donald Trump's announcements about Jerusalem; after the escalation of Israel's illegal settlement activity and Judaisation efforts; and after the US-Israeli programme became clear regarding the "deal", which only refers to autonomy in areas A and B with economic improvements, without Jerusalem as a capital, the return of refugees or sovereignty. It is difficult for Abbas to make any concessions regarding Jerusalem, though, as he already made major concessions in his negotiations with former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and ex-Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, as exposed by the infamous negotiations documents.
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Nevertheless, he addressed two issues in this speech: refugees and their return, which is not intended "to destroy" or "drown" Israel; and security, which he addressed by conceding sovereignty by agreeing to an international presence in the country.
However, none of his concessions will lead to anything positive for Palestine; they will merely spread more frustration among the Palestinians. Maybe this is what he wants, so that no one will think of any resistance to the occupation. He is satisfied with his current position and is talking about changing the government and having elections as if he were the leader of a country that has no existential issues to contend with.
Nevertheless, the party tribe will continue to cheer him on, including those tribal members who live in the diaspora and can see clearly that he is relinquishing their right to return to their homeland.
Fatah is currently catastrophic for the Palestinian cause, and if it does not restore itself as a liberation movement, it will continue to be lost. There is still hope that the people themselves will change their minds and rectify its direction. However, this is a possibility that Abbas, the Zionists, many Arabs and the world powers are trying to prevent.
Translated from Alarab, 13 February 2019
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.