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Mahmoud Abbas.(Photo by: REUTERS)
Unrealistic national aspirations
By LIOR AKERMAN
05/18/2017
US President Donald Trump is becoming more comfortable in his new position and has embarked on his own Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative.
In the last few weeks, a number of extraordinary events that could dramatically affect the political arena in the Middle East have taken place right in front of our eyes.

US President Donald Trump is becoming more comfortable in his new position and has embarked on his own Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative. The fact that he has chosen to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas so early in his term shows the importance he attributes to reaching an agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

In addition, it appears that Abbas has also been actively voicing a desire to carry out change. He has not, God forbid, stopped the incitement against Israel, but he has called for a boycott of the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip, and a cessation of the transfer of tax revenues to Gaza. Abbas also declared in Washington that he is committed to reaching a peace agreement with Israel.

There are no similar signs of change in Netanyahu’s stance, but sources close to him claim that he is concerned he might complete his term as prime minister without ever having achieved any political or historic achievements for his people. In addition, Netanyahu is also feeling pressure from Trump to make a number of political moves, which would be tricky considering the limitations of the Israeli government’s unstable coalition.

Not surprisingly, though, the main obstacle to reaching a peace agreement is the Palestinians.

Abbas inherited from his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, an authority that is completely malfunctioning.

It does not function properly on the political, social, leadership or administrative levels. Nothing has changed over the past 20 years; the Palestinian Authority still fully relies on contributions from other countries and on Israel’s government for electricity and transportation infrastructure.

In addition, during all these years, the Palestinian Authority has never developed any industry and still relies completely on Israel. Almost every single Palestinian family depends on Israeli employers for its livelihood. Anyone who walks into a Palestinian refugee camp in Judea and Samaria today will see that it looks exactly the same as it did in 1991 before the Madrid Conference.

In all these years, the Palestinian Authority has done nothing to improve the refugees’ quality of life or living conditions.

Abbas is widely considered a weak leader who lacks charisma and any leadership qualities. In fact, during all the 11 years he has led the Palestinian Authority after being elected for a four-year term, he has not accomplished even one important feat for his people. The Hamas leadership has not failed to take note of this and in recent years has been making inroads in Judea and Samaria in the hope that this area would soon fall under Hamas rule, just as Gaza did.

Fatah leaders realized years ago that Abbas was never going to make any serious achievements. The struggle over who will take over the PA leadership when Abbas steps down began two or three years ago, even though Abbas never officially announced that he would be stepping down. Abbas did threaten a few times to quit politics, but nothing ever happened except for sensational newspaper headlines.

A number of rivals have popped up from within the Fatah ranks over the years, the most prominent of which are Muhammad Dahlan and Marwan Barghouti. A number of contenders have also been securing their position in the shadow of Abbas in an effort to remain loyal to their mentor, including Jibril Rajoub, who in the past was chief of security in the Palestinian territories and now heads the Palestinian Olympics Committee, and Majid Farj, who is the new head of PA security and is Abbas’s righthand man.

No one is expecting the Palestinian Authority to turn into a democracy overnight. It would be a surprise for the Palestinians and the entire world if Abbas were to succeed in making inroads toward the establishment of a Palestinian state. The most likely scenario, however, is that he would do nothing remarkable before disappearing into the annals of history. Abbas is making an effort to secure a successor and he has his eyes are set on Farj. Both Dahlan and Barghouti, however, have no intention of sitting idle and watching Abbas hand over the reins to his protégé.

Dahlan is funneling millions of dollars into the West Bank and Gaza to build infrastructure for his supporters in the refugee camps and also in a few cities and villages.

Barghouti, who is serving five life sentences for murder in an Israeli prison, and Dahlan have both garnered a substantial amount of support among Palestinians. Dahlan has publicly stated that he is not interested in being PA president and that he supports Barghouti.

But anyone who knows him knows that he’s aiming as high as possible, and that the only reason he is supporting Barghouti is because he’s hoping that Barghouti will never be released from prison.

The most likely scenario is that, in the absence of any significant change in the Palestinian leadership, it would be difficult to reach any kind of arrangement, even if Israel were to initiate such a move.

We should remain hopeful that the next PA leader will show courage and leadership capabilities, will revolutionize the Palestinian community, be willing to support a peace settlement that Israel can also live with, and forgo fantasies and unrealistic national aspirations.

The writer is a former brigadier-general who served as a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).

Translated by Hannah Hochner.
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