Mahmoud Abbas announced today that he would not run for president in upcoming PA elections scheduled for January. This throws U.S. policy into some disarray as it was predicated on a go-along-to-get-along Palestinian leader like Abbas who would be malleable to U.S. interests. If there was a clear successor groomed, it might make this announcement less distressing. But there isn’t. The only clear names are problematic for different reasons.
The most obvious is Marwan Barghouti, the most universally acclaimed Fatah leader not only in the West Bank, but in Gaza as well. The only problem is that he sits in an Israeli prison. There has been some talk that a negotiated deal to release Gilad Shalit might include Barghouti. But unless he is released, running for office would mean Palestinians would be electing someone who couldn’t serve. This too would embarrass Israel, which might be reason enough for the Palestinians to do precisely that.
The other option is a member of the Fatah’s powerful, but discredited Old Guard like Mohammed Dahlan. This choice would be universally condemned everywhere but in Fatah circles. Dahlan is widely hated by Hamas for engaging in torture, corruption and other serious abuses.
There is always the possibility that Abbas is posturing or maneuvering for a more favorable stance on the part of the Obama administration regarding the settlement freeze and final status talks. Abbas resigned when he was prime minister under Arafat (and then returned after Arafat’s death). I don’t know which way this one’s going to go. But it seems to me that the drubbing the U.S. indirectly engineered for him when it persuaded him to scuttle the Goldstone Report, plus the intransigence of the Netanyahu government would be more than sufficient to persuade any politician that he’d gone about as far as he could given the circumstances.
The Times article outlines the sense of despondency among Fatah leadership and their sense of betrayal by the U.S.:
It was…clear that Israeli-Palestinian talks would not resume any time soon despite intensive American diplomacy. A top aide to Mr. Abbas said a large part of the “despondency and frustration” felt by Mr. Abbas and the entire Palestinian leadership was due to President Obama’s unrealized promises to the region. He said he feared that without a stop to settlements, Islamist rivals in Hamas could triumph and violence could break out.
“There was high expectation when he arrived on the scene,” the aide, Nabil Shaath, who heads the Fatah party’s foreign affairs department, said of Mr. Obama at a briefing. “He said he would work to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that it would play a major role in improving the American and Western relationship with the Muslim world. Now there is a total retreat, which has destroyed trust instead of building trust.”
…“I think he’s reached the conclusion that he’s reached a dead-end,” said Qaddoura Fares, another Fatah leader, on Israel Radio, speaking of Mr. Abbas.
There is also the added factor of Hamas. Fatah has failed to negotiate a reconciliation with the Islamic movement, and without this there can be no elections in Gaza. PA voting in the West Bank alone would be quite embarrassing to Fatah I would think, and would cause them to delay the elections.
I worry that Abbas’ resignation and the flux of Palestinian leadership that results will provide a major setback for the Obama administration. I can see no way it can seriously attempt to advance the peace process given how little Israel is giving him to work with.
Let’s be clear about where fault lies should these things come to pass. Look no farther than the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem. And this impasse suits Israel just fine. Stasis and stalemate are Israel’s preferred modes when it comes to the conflict. The only thing that seems to move Israel off the dime is a massive terror attack. It’s hard to tell which of Israel’s will oblige this scenario: Hezbollah or Hamas, who knows? And if Israel truly wants to divert the world’s attention from its obstinacy there’s always a new military adventure in Iran that is possible. That nation is the smoke that conceals Israel’s real interest, which is continuing the Occupation and stiffing the Palestinians.
Israel and its supporters seem to believe they can maintain the status quo ad infinitum. But things change. Instead of the consensus being a two state solution, that could change. People who previously never spoke favorably of a one-state solution are despairingly turning to it:
Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator, said Wednesday at a news conference that perhaps Palestinians should abandon the two-state approach and work toward one shared state with the Jews, something a vast majority of Israelis oppose.
He said Mr. Abbas should maybe “tell his people the truth, that with the continuation of settlement activities the two-state solution is no longer an option.”
Israel should understand that this is not a trick, not a maneuver. Most of all, at some point in the future there will be no return to the two state solution. The international consensus will move from two to one-state. At that time, telling the world you’ve had a change of heart and a two state solution would be just fine thank you–that’s not going to work.