Sunday, November 29, 2009

Abbas isn't going anywhere - just a smokescreen for his unwillingness to negotiate peace with Israel

(Ottawacitizen).Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has recently threatened to resign over his alleged frustration that there was no progress happening on the Israel-Palestinian dispute. However, Middle East expert Barry Rubin argues the PA's actual goal is not peace, but Israel's elimination.

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has recently threatened to resign over his alleged frustration that there was no progress happening on the Israel-Palestinian dispute. However, Middle East expert Barry Rubin argues the PA's actual goal is not peace, but Israel's elimination.

Once again we've seen a flurry of pseudo-events in the Middle East provoking much excitement and attention, despite having no real effect and significance. In this case, these include: the threat of Palestinian Authority (PA) leader Mahmoud Abbas to resign, his claim he would call new elections, and the PA saying it would issue a unilateral declaration of independence (UDI).

These words were taken seriously and as a cry for help out of profound frustration that there was no huge progress or solution happening on the Israel-Palestinian dispute. Of course, Abbas never had any intention of resigning or calling elections. He can't call elections because the PA fears it would lose them and Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, won't let them be held there.

His real motivation is to prove hardline; get all; gain leverage.

As for frustration at the stalemate, it is easily demonstrable that Abbas and the PA are precisely those responsible for the lack of progress. Instead, the Palestinians are always presented as victims, passive observers, people who have nothing to do with their own fate.

Ironically, despite its "progressive" packaging, this world view arises from the same place as imperialist-racist thinking that these are "primitive" people who don't have any ideas or goals of their own. They are mere reflections of what "we" do and hence perpetual victims. They cannot take responsibility, they can only be acted on and then reflect what is done to them.

Thus, everything must always be the fault of Israel or America or the West. Palestinians never actually "do" anything. The fact is that their basic problem arises from their strategy of seeking Israel's destruction over a compromise peace that would mean the conflict's end in a permanent two-state solution.

This is clear in any accurate factual account of what has happened. That Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian leadership were offered a Palestinian state with its capital in east Jerusalem and billions of dollars in start-up funding twice in the year 2000, at Camp David and in the December 2000 plan of president Bill Clinton. That instead they launched a war against Israel that went on for five years and cost thousands of lives. Having lost that war they dug in with intransigence that has lasted to the present day about negotiating a just and lasting peace. After all, Abbas is now refusing even to negotiate with Israel.

Instead, the PA prefers to negotiate a partnership with Hamas, which would be in place now if the PA's demands weren't too high for the radical Islamist group that rules the Gaza Strip. Palestinian politics is so riddled with extremism that Hamas with its genocidal, anti-Semitic fight-for-a-thousand-years-who-cares-how-many-people-get-killed policy has a broad appeal on a basis of decades of PLO propaganda to the same effect.

And why did Abbas hit a "dead end"? Why is there a "morass"? Could it be he is weak, the leadership in general extremist, and the movement is not interested in or capable of making peace with Israel, despite the extravagant offers made by former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert for a comprehensive settlement?

The story of the resignation, election call and unilateral independence declaration fits in this context. The United States reached a deal with Israel that should have been satisfactory. Israel agreed not to start any more apartment construction on existing settlements once the current 3,000 units are finished. This did not apply to Jerusalem. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton rightly saw this as a huge concession especially because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu placed his coalition in jeopardy to do it and got nothing in exchange.

Abbas, however, basically ignored this deal and demanded that all construction must stop right now or he wouldn't talk at all. In addition, he rejected, after a brief wait, a U.S. request that he not push the tendentious Goldstone report in the UN. After all, Obama reasoned, claiming that Israel is a war criminal and demanding it be severely punished was not conducive to making peace with it.

The PA leadership rejected Obama's request, with the leaders competing with each other and Hamas to prove their militancy. So it organized riots in Jerusalem, and embarked on the charade of Abbas's resignation (to mobilize support for him), pretending to call elections (to prove its backing by the masses), and play at a UDI move.

But there is also a deeper significance to the UDI gambit. The PA does not want to negotiate peace with Israel for three reasons:

- Its actual goal is Israel's elimination, not stabilization in a two-state arrangement.

- If it makes any agreement, it would only be with loopholes allowing a second stage of struggle to achieve that goal, something Israel would not accept. Examples include refusal to have an unmilitarized state, give security guarantees, agree to settle all Palestinian refugees in Palestine, accept Israel as a Jewish state, or even specify a full peace treaty ends the conflict and Palestinian claims forever.

- To negotiate a peace treaty with Israel would force the PA to make concessions which would not be popular, much of the leadership opposes, and Hamas would use as leverage to claim the PA has committed treason.

Consequently, it is far more appealing to ask outside powers to give the PA a state without having to bargain at all with Israel. This gambit isn't going to work.

Of course, if the Palestinian leadership wanted to end the "occupation" and get rid of settlements on its territory there's a simple solution. It need merely negotiate peace with Israel as soon as possible. This could all have happened years ago.

The fact that it isn't happening now or for years to come is due to the PA's rejection of peace. To keep the door open for total victory in the future, to avoid compromising, to prevent internal conflict, it is willing to wait much longer, let its people suffer, and use both real and fictional suffering as leverage in an attempt to get far more.