alestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas casts his vote at PA headquarters in Ramallah in 2005.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
As he prepares to enter the 13th year of his four-year term of office, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas might meet his successor next week. On Tuesday, his Fatah Party is scheduled to elect leaders to the movement’s two authoritative bodies, the Central Committee and the Revolutionary Council, and set a strategy for the coming five years. The last time this happened was in 2009, and before that in 1989. It is a contest whose outcome could point toward continuing stagnation in attempts to resolve the conflict between our peoples or to a glimmer of hope for peace.
The Fatah leadership election to take place on November 29 is a prelude to the postponed vote next month for the PLO’s main decision-making body, the Executive Committee. The approach of both contests has been marked by violence between PA security forces loyal to Abbas and Fatah factions in Palestinian refugee camps, resulting in increasing instability, even lawlessness.
This state of affairs is generally attributed to Abbas, who has cultivated incitement against Israel and endruns to the United Nations in pursuit of statehood rather than accept numerous invitations by Israel to negotiate a peace agreement face to face. In doing so, the PA leader has ignored the damage his policy of encouraging the BDS movement has had on the Palestinian economy, whose breadwinners suffer from 30% unemployment.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated his willingness to meet Abbas anywhere and at any time. All Abbas has to do is say yes.
Instead, Abbas has proven to be an ineffective leader and has also made no provision for an orderly transition to a successor. Suffering from ill heath at the age of 81, he must be aware that time is running out. On the other hand, the decay of the PA may be too advanced to remedy.
It was not supposed to be this way. The Palestinian Authority was established by the Oslo Accords in 1993 to serve as an interim attempt at self-government on the road to a final peace agreement with Israel.
It is important to remember the outcome of another vital November vote, the one on November 29, 1947, that first offered the promise of a two-state solution to the conflict. General Assembly Resolution 181 ending the British Mandate and creating a Jewish state and an Arab state refers to a plan of partition that links them in an economic union. The world body sought to link the two separate entities economically, recognizing the fundamental interdependency of two states sharing the same geographical area. It was a good idea, whose time has yet to come.
Astoundingly, Abbas acknowledged in an October 2011 interview on Channel 2 that the Arab rejection of the Partition Plan was a mistake. He told interviewer Enrique Zimmerman that he was “trying to rectify the mistake” – about a month after he spoke at the UN seeking unilateral recognition of an independent Palestinian state.
“It was our mistake,” Abbas said, “but should they [the Israelis] punish us for this mistake for 64 years?” he said.
Speaking in English, Abbas said, “It was an Arab mistake as a whole.”
Next week’s congress will reportedly end in the selection of a deputy chairman of Fatah who would serve under Abbas. This person, if selected, would be one of the key candidates to replace Abbas one day. As a result, Abbas is trying to stop the candidacy of exiled longtime rival Muhammad Dahlan, a popular Fatah leader who was ousted as security chief in the Gaza Strip by the 2007 Hamas coup. He has lived in the United Arab Emirates and Egypt ever since Abbas charged him with corruption after he charged Abbas’s sons, Yasser and Tarek, with corruption.
Abbas’s campaign kicked into gear after Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates reportedly presented him with a “road map” for renewing peace talks with Israel. The plan cited Dahlan’s return to a leadership position as a prerequisite. But it might also serve Abbas as an opportunity to consolidate his dwindling power by purging hopeful rivals, particularly Dahlan.
Surveys have yet to indicate who Israelis would prefer to see succeed Abbas, but it is likely that, in these volatile times, we would opt for the candidate who promises continuing stability – neither peace nor war, but at least the end to incitement and a commitment to negotiate a final settlement.