Mahmoud Abbas: A Palestinian Don Quixote or a brave hero?

Abbas wants to be remembered as the great leader who managed to elevate the status of the Palestinians to full members of the UN.

By
January 17, 2019 21:16
Mahmoud Abbas: A Palestinian Don Quixote or a brave hero?

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York, U.S., September 27, 2018.. (photo credit: CARLO ALLEGRI/REUTERS)

 
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One day after PA President Mahmoud Abbas was handed the presidency of Group 77 and China at the UN, senior Palestinian official Nabil Sha’ath met with the head of the Russian Representative Office in Ramallah, Aganin Aidar Rashidovich.

Like several Palestinian officials, Sha’ath, too, was in an upbeat mood over the Palestinians’ chairmanship of the largest bloc at the UN representing 134 nations. The officials see the move at the UN as a significant and historic achievement for Palestinian diplomacy, and a severe blow to Israel and the US administration. They are also hoping that the move at the UN would pave the way for other parties, especially Russia, to increase their involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The officials say that their next move will be to apply for full membership in the UN. However, they still haven’t decided when they would embark on such a move.

Some officials said that the Palestinians should proceed with the initiative even at the cost of it being vetoed by the US. The Palestinians have nothing to fear, they argue, because the US administration has already taken a series of punitive measures against them, and relations between Ramallah and the White House can’t be worse than they already are.
Other officials said they were hoping that Russia and other countries would still be able to persuade the US administration to change its mind.

Sha’ath, who played a major role in the secret negotiations between the PLO and Israel that led to the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, seized the meeting to heap praise on Russia’s “historic and principled” role in supporting the Palestinians. “The world is headed toward a new, multipolar world order,” Sha’ath told the Russian diplomat.

Expressing appreciation for Russian’s “growing political role in the international arena,” the Palestinian official, who once served as Palestinian Authority foreign minister, said: “Russia has been and remains superpower, and we are confident and hopeful that this role serves the interests of our people and their just cause.”

He also predicted that Russia will have a “special and influential role [in the new world order] alongside other emerging international parties in Asia, Latin America, the US and Europe.”

US President Donald Trump, Sha’ath claimed, “tried to impose his ‘deal of the century’ on our people and thought that no one would be able to reject it. The Palestinians, however, were able to reject this deal and won the backing and respect of 140 countries. The ‘deal of the century’ essentially violates all international laws and conventions.”

SHA’ATH’S REMARKS reflect the Palestinian leadership’s current strategy, which seeks to replace the US as the main and sole player in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Abbas and his senior officials in Ramallah have been stating for the past year that the US has disqualified itself from playing any role in the conflict, because of its “blind bias” in favor of Israel and its “hostility” toward the Palestinians.

They maintain that the Trump administration’s policies and decisions over the past year, including the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the relocation of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, are proof that Washington can no longer be trusted to play the role of “honest broker” in any Middle East peace process. As such, they argue, the time has come for other international parties, like Russia, to move in and play a larger role in the region.

“The US has lost its credibility in the Middle East because of Trump’s anti-Palestinian policies and decisions,” said a PA official in Ramallah this week. “Our strategy now is to get as many countries as possible involved in efforts to solve the conflict.”

The official said that what happened at the UN on Tuesday was a “huge achievement” for the Palestinians “because the presidency of the largest bloc shows that the world stands with us.” The bloc, he pointed out, “represents 80% of the world’s population, and this is surely a slap in the face of Trump and [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu.”

Buoyed by the Palestinian presidency of the developing nations bloc, several Palestinian officials said they saw it as a first step toward the “internationalization” of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and ending Washington’s “monopoly” over a future Middle East peace process. When Palestinians talk about the “internationalization” of the conflict, they imagine countries such as Russia and the EU stepping in to replace the American role in the conflict.

The Palestinians’ chairmanship of Group 77 and China is a “historic achievement and the outcome of intensive diplomatic efforts,” the Palestinian daily Al-Quds said in an editorial. “It reaffirms the world’s solidarity with us and our cause and its rejection of the occupation, as well as absolute rejection of Trump’s policies, which are blindly biased in favor of Israel.”

The Palestinian leadership is now hoping that the presidency of the group will pave the way for full Palestinian membership in the UN. Palestinian officials are not saying when they will ask the UN to vote in favor of full Palestinian membership.


In 2011, Abbas submitted the first application for Palestinian membership in the UN, but it never came before the Security Council for a vote, out of fear it would be vetoed by the US. A year later, however, the UN General Assembly granted “Palestine” nonmember observer status.

After Tuesday’s ceremony at the UN, during which Abbas was handed the presidency of the international group, his foreign minister, Riad Malki, announced that the Palestinians will launch a bid for full membership, notwithstanding US opposition.

“We know that we are going to face a US veto, but that won’t prevent us from presenting our application,” he said.

Another senior official in Ramallah, PLO Executive Committee member Ahmed Majdalani, claimed this week that the US administration was already exerting pressure on several countries not to support the admission of the “State of Palestine” as a full member of the UN. He, too, said that such an application would be submitted to the UN, but did not say when. Majdalani said that the election of the Palestinians to chair Group 77 and China has already “upgraded the status of the State of Palestine in international forums.” The move, he added, has disturbed the US and Israel.

“The Palestinians will continue to practice their right to request membership in the UN,” the PLO official said. “The American position is hostile toward the Palestinians, and matches with the Israeli position. The US will no longer be the main player in a political process [between Israel and the Palestinians].”

The way Palestinians now see matters is as follows: “We have won the confidence of two-thirds of the world, most of the UN state members recognize the State of Palestine, and the US and Israel are among a few countries that continue to work against peace and the two-state solution.”

Their main goal now is to get Russia and other countries to put pressure on the Trump administration to refrain from foiling a renewed bid for Palestinian membership in the UN. They believe that the diplomatic offensive the Palestinians have been waging in the international arena will eventually force the US to change its policies with regards to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Some Palestinians believe that the Palestinian leadership should apply for full membership in the UN even if the chances of it being approved are zero. A US veto, they argue, will convince the rest of the world that the Americans are fully responsible for the ongoing stalemate in the peace process.

“The current Palestinian diplomatic offensive is primarily aimed at isolating Israel and the US in the international arena, and this seems to be working,” commented a Palestinian political analyst. “Ironically, Trump’s anti-Palestinian policies are backfiring and helping the Palestinians gain more support and sympathy around the world.”

MEANWHILE, THE 83-year-old Abbas appears to be the biggest beneficiary of the Palestinian diplomatic offensive. Tuesday’s ceremony at the UN came as Abbas entered the 15th year of his four-year term in office. His appearance at the UN, as well as his chairmanship of the international bloc, is a severe blow to his political opponents and foes at home and abroad who, since 2009, have been saying that the man is not a legitimate and rightful president.

Abbas sees the presidency of the international group as an international vote of confidence in him and his leadership. Abbas loyalists claim that by openly and bravely standing against the US and Israel in recent years, the PA president has earned the respect of many Palestinians and Arabs.

But Abbas feels that the success of his diplomatic warfare against Israel and the US will remain incomplete without full membership in the UN. He wants to be remembered as the great leader who managed to elevate the status of the Palestinians to full members of the UN, and not as the president who was responsible for deep divisions among his people and the creation of two separate ministates – one in the West Bank and another in the Gaza Strip.

But Abbas’s critics are now likening him to Don Quixote, the 17th-century Spanish literary character who was mocked as a dreamer and delusional foolish man who tilted at windmills.

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