Analysis: The cost of jumping off the ship

PA President hasn’t lost hope US, Europeans will be able to reach face-saving compromise to allow him to back out in a dignified manner.

By
September 16, 2011 02:54
3 minute read.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas at the United Nations

Abbas 311. (photo credit: REUTERS/Dado Ruvic)

 
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Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is caught in a catch-22 situation.

If he succumbs to US, EU and Israeli calls to abandon his plan to seek full membership of a Palestinian state in the UN next week, he will be condemned by many Palestinians for capitulating to outside pressure.

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There are several disillusioned PA and Fatah officials who are not happy with Abbas, especially because of the way he has been handling the peace process with Israel, and are waiting for the right moment and the first opportunity to pounce on him.

As one of his top aides put it on Thursday, “The president knows that if he jumps off the ship now, he will be devoured by the sharks.”

Abbas needs a life jacket that will prevent him from drowning, and something that will protect him against the jaws of the sharks, the official explained.

Palestinian officials say these are two things the Americans and Europeans have so far failed to provide.



The officials are particularly angry with US President Barack Obama for failing to provide Abbas with a ladder to climb down from the high tree.

Moreover, the PA officials accuse Obama of misleading them in the first place by giving them the impression that a Palestinian state would be established by the time the UN General Assembly would meet this year.

They point to his speech at the UN last year, when the US president declared: “When we come back here next year, we can have an agreement that can lead to a new member of the United Nations, an independent, sovereign state of Palestine.”

In his recent meetings with US government officials, Abbas reminded them of Obama’s “promise” and said the Palestinians were acting in accordance with the US president’s ostensible pledge.

Until this week, Palestinian officials said Abbas was hoping Washington would accept his two conditions for returning to the negotiating table with Israel: a full cessation of settlement construction and Israeli recognition of the June 4, 1967, lines as the basis for peace talks aimed at achieving a two-state solution.

In the past few weeks, Abbas’s message to Obama and other world leaders has been: Hold me back from going to the UN by making Israel accept the two conditions for resuming the peace talks.

Abbas still hasn’t lost hope that the Americans and Europeans will be able to reach some kind of a face-saving compromise that will allow him to climb down from the high tree in a dignified manner. That’s why he still hasn’t submitted an official application for full membership in the UN.

The Palestinian leader is hoping daily statements from PA officials about their determination to proceed with the statehood bid will increase pressure on the Americans and Europeans to come up with a formula that can be presented to the Palestinian public as a victory. Abbas knows very well he would be doomed if he dropped the statehood plan without gaining something significant in return.

On the other hand, Abbas and many Palestinians are well aware of the possibility that they would pay a heavy price if they insisted on going ahead with the statehood bid in defiance of the US and many EU countries.

Abbas is hoping the Arab and Islamic countries would compensate the Palestinians for the loss of American and EU funds. In wake of the Arab Spring, he is betting on the Arab and Muslim masses, and not the governments, which have not been financially supportive of the Palestinians over the past two decades.

This is why Abbas, during a visit to Cairo this week, appealed to all Arabs to take to the streets on September 23 to voice support for his statehood bid at the UN. The direct appeal to the Arab masses is an obvious sign that Abbas is not pinning high hopes on the governments and leaders.

But there are still many Palestinians who are worried that Abbas is leading them toward the abyss with his statehood initiative.

The main concern is that the PA would go bankrupt without US and EU funding, leaving more than 150,000 civil servants without salaries. Other Palestinians are also worried about the possibility of a third intifada erupting in the Palestinian territories as tensions mount between Israel and the PA over the statehood bid.

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