What’s Next, Abbas?

Spurned in Washington, can President Abbas defer any longer the
imperative of re-establishing Palestinian national unity, asks Khaled
Amayreh in Ramallah

The obvious failure of Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud
Abbas’s latest visit to Washington has been reverberating through
Palestinian society, with many intellectuals and pundits advising
Abbas to “quit” or at least stop acting at the US administration’s
beck and call. Some critics have even called for dismantling the PA
and abandoning the two-state solution strategy in favour of the
one-state solution of a democratic state for all its citizens.

Abbas, in a frank and daring admission, told reporters following his
meeting with President Bush at the White House last week that he
failed to obtain a commitment from the US administration to pressure
Israel into halting its wave of Jewish-only settlement building in
East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The intensive settlement expansion
drive brazenly defies US-led peace efforts, including the
Quartet-backed roadmap and last year’s Annapolis conference.

For their part, the Israelis deny that they are reneging on
commitments or pledges. Israeli leaders argue that they are only
meeting housing needs related to “natural growth” within existing
settlements. They also cite a private “understanding” contained in a
letter sent by President Bush to former prime minister Ariel Sharon
whereby Israel was given a green light to continue expanding
settlements irrespective of peace talks with the Palestinians.

The Bush administration has been reticent to acknowledge this
supposed “understanding”. However, its enduring refusal to rebuke
Israel for its continued colonisation of Palestinian land underscores
the extent of US-Israeli connivance against Palestinian interests and
exposes the duplicity of US political calculations with regard to the
Israeli-Palestinian issue.

Palestinian sources close to PA-Israeli talks last week reported that
Israeli negotiators on many occasions confronted their Palestinian
counterparts with a series of written “pledges” and “letters” from
the Bush administration assuring Israel that major Jewish
settlements, at least, would be annexed into Israel in the context of
a final-status deal with the Palestinians. Hence, according to
Israeli negotiators, there was no justification for “vociferous”
Palestinian protest every time Israel decided to build additional
settler units in the West Bank.

Reportedly, Abbas was also especially upset by President Bush’s
refusal to pledge that any contemplated Palestinian “state” would be
created on 100 per cent of the Palestinian territories occupied by
Israel in 1967. The implications of Bush’s refusal are as clear as
they are painful for the Palestinian leadership; namely that the
Palestinians should stop dreaming of a full and total Israeli
withdrawal from the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

According to sources within Abbas’s immediate circle, the PA leader
has come to feel “betrayed” and “deceived” by the Bush
administration. “We thought there was only one game in town, and that
was the roadmap,” one PA official told Al-Ahram Weekly on condition
of anonymity. “But it turned out that the Bush administration had
been giving Israel all sorts of assurances and pledges behind our
back, which violate and nullify the essence of the roadmap.”

Asked what he thought the PA would do next, the frustrated official
said: “I would lie to you if I told you I knew the answer.”

The Weekly asked senior Fatah official Hatem Abdul-Qader for his view
as to what the PA should do in light of US refusals to pressure
Israel to halt settlement expansion in the West Bank. “I think it is
time for all of us, including President Abbas, to realise that it is
probably too late for the creation of a Palestinian state,” he said.
“All peace talks with Israel seem to have been a gigantic fiasco — a
total failure and big lie.”

Like many PA and Fatah officials, Abdul- Qader believes that Abbas is
facing a real dilemma in having to choose between appeasing the US by
compromising the Palestinian cause, or rebuilding Palestinian
national unity with Hamas, which would upset Israel and the US and
which might lead to the reinstitution of US-led sanctions on the PA.
“It is clear that talks with Israel have reached a dead end. It is
also clear that Israel is using the national rift between Fatah and
Hamas to impose its conditions on us,” Abdul-Qader said.

“All the promises and pledges the Bush administration has made to us
have evaporated,” Abdul-Qader continues. “The US is only indulging in
an open-ended process of deception for the purpose of giving Israel
the time it needs to build more settlements and make the task of
creating a viable Palestinian state unrealistic and unachievable.”

Asked what he would advise Abbas to do in light of receding prospects
of reaching a breakthrough before the end of 2008, Abdul-Qader said
he would advise the PA president to “pay attention to our internal
situation and stop bidding on fruitless talks with Israel. Abbas
should be courageous enough to tell the Americans that he won’t
sacrifice paramount Palestinian national interests for the sake of
American and Israeli interests.”

Abdul-Qader adds that in order for Abbas to be able to say “No” to
the US and Israel, Hamas “will have to make the first step by
accepting the Yemeni initiative”. Fatah could facilitate this by
refraining from “making impossible preconditions for national
reconciliation”.

Earlier this week, Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip called on Abbas
to “draw the correct conclusion” from the “rebuff” he received in
Washington. “We call on President Mahmoud Abbas to stop seeking water
from the American mirage. We urge him to immediately embark on
tangible steps to re-establish national unity. It is only with
national unity that we can restore our rights and safeguard the vital
interests of our people.”

Abbas has not said what he will do next apart from continuing in
talks with Israel. Hani Al-Masri, a prominent political analyst in
Ramallah, told the Weekly that Abbas’s dilemma “stems mainly from the
fact that he lacks a plan-B.” Abbas “trusted the Americans too much
and for too long. He should have explored alternatives to this futile
process.”

“He should extend his hand to Hamas and re- establish Palestinian
national unity, irrespective of American and Israeli reactions. He
should stop this futile process under whose rubric Israel is
liquidating the Palestinian cause,” Al-Masri added.

Al-Masri acknowledges that if Abbas were to cut from the so-called
“peace process”, the US and Israel would employ all kinds of
sanctions, including starving the Palestinian population, to get him
back in line. “But in the long run, [the US] will accept the fait
accompli. After all, if we stand united, the whole world, including
the Americans, will respect us. The ball is in our court, and no one
else’s.”

Caption: A NEW ISRAELI OUTRAGE: The battered bodies of four
Palestinian children killed by Israeli fire lay at a morgue in Beit
Lahia, Gaza. The four children, aged one to five, and their mother
were killed during Israeli military operations

C a p t i o n 2: A NEW ISRAELI OUTRAGE: The battered bodies of four
Palestinian children killed by Israeli fire lay at a morgue in Beit
Lahia, Gaza. The four children, aged one to five, and their mother
were killed during Israeli military operations

© Copyright Al-Ahram Weekly. All rights reserved

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