President Mahmoud Abbas is beginning to realize that he has climbed a very high tree regarding the plan to ask the UN to recognize a Palestinian state in September, and is now crying out for someone to provide him with a ladder to come down.
This is how a senior Palestinian Authority official in Ramallah responded when asked this week where Abbas stood on the issue of the statehood bid.
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In the last two weeks, according to the official, Abbas has come under immense pressure from the US administration to abandon the statehood initiative and return to the negotiating table with Israel.
Abbas is also facing pressure from the Americans and some EU governments to abandon plans to form a unity government with Hamas, the official said.
The feeling in Ramallah is that Abbas would not be able to resist the
growing pressure and would eventually be forced to drop his plans for
unilateral statehood and unity with Hamas.
Already this week, there were signs that he was reconsidering the two moves.
On the issue of statehood, Abbas seems to have softened his tone and is
no longer threatening to go to the UN at all costs. The message he is
sending now to the Americans and Europeans is: Please hold me back from
going to the UN.
Abbas is now saying he would rather return to the negotiating table with
Israel than proceed with the plan to seek statehood unilaterally. But
to do so, he needs Israel to give him something so it won’t appear as if
he has once again surrendered to outside pressure.
The PA president is in fact searching for a face saving solution to the
mess he got himself into by declaring day and night that nothing would
stop him from going to the UN in September.
He is counting on US President Barack Obama to give him the ladder that
would enable him to climb down from the tree without being hurt.
“I still have hope in President Obama,” Abbas said this week in an interview with a Lebanese TV station.
Abbas and his aides say that the Americans and Europeans have come up
with a number of proposals that would help the PA president backtrack on
the statehood initiative. The Palestinians are now studying these
proposals, some of which are not bad, according to sources close to
“We have two basic demands,” the sources said.
“We want a commitment that the 1967 borders would serve as the basis for
future negotiations and a temporary cessation of settlement
construction. The ball is now in the Israeli court.”
What worries decision-makers in Ramallah is that most of the EU
countries have endorsed Washington’s opposition to the statehood
The EU’s high representative for foreign affairs, Catherine Ashton, met
with Abbas in Ramallah last week and advised him to find a way to resume
peace talks with Israel instead of proceeding with the statehood plan.
Ashton’s refusal to support the statehood plan apparently convinced
Abbas and his team that the time had come to start searching for an
“honorable” way out of the quagmire.
Abbas’s biggest fear is that the Americans and Europeans would hold him
responsible for derailing the peace process by embarking on a unilateral
move that would draw a strong response from the Israel government, such
as abolishing the Oslo Accords or annexing parts of the West Bank.
On the other hand, the statehood initiative has triggered a debate among
the top Palestinian leadership in the West Bank as a growing number of
senior officials begin to voice opposition to the plan for various
reasons. Some are worried it would put the Palestinians on a collision
course with the Americans and Europeans, who are the Palestinians’ major
Others fear the plan would deepen divisions among the Palestinians,
especially because Abbas has failed to consult with all political groups
and Palestinian representatives abroad about the move. Some
Palestinians have been asking whether Abbas, whose term in office
expired in early 2009, has a mandate to embark on such a historic
The reconciliation pact with Hamas has only exacerbated the crisis.
Facing threats from the US and EU to suspend financial aid to the
Palestinians if Hamas is allowed to join a unity government, Abbas this
week canceled a planned summit with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in
At the summit, Abbas and Mashaal were supposed to announce the
establishment of a new Palestinian government under the terms of the
Egyptian-brokered deal, which was declared in Cairo on May 4.
Although the official reason for the cancellation was failure to reach
agreement on who would head the unity government, Palestinian officials
admitted that American and European pressure and “threats” had forced
Abbas to change his mind.
Abbas was never keen on the agreement with Hamas and was dragged into it
under pressure from the new government in Egypt, said a Fatah
representative closely associated with the PA leader.
In light of the fierce opposition in Washington and the EU to the unity
deal with Hamas, Abbas’s aides are now talking about delaying the
implementation of the reconciliation accord for several months, also
because of the wide gap between the two rival parties on security and
political issues. As one aide put it, “We announced an agreement when in
fact we haven’t reached agreement on anything.”
Abbas’s failure to go to the UN in September and implement the
reconciliation accord with Hamas will only cause further damage to
what’s left of his credibility among Palestinians. It remains to be seen
if any ladder can help him out of this mess.