Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s visit to Washington and two speeches by US
President Barack Obama have reinforced the Palestinian Authority’s belief that
the Middle East peace process is dead.
Some Palestinian leaders were even
talking about the need to consider “other options” in the wake of Netanyahu’s
and Obama’s statements.
The “other options” include proceeding with plans
to ask the United Nations in September to recognize a Palestinian state on the
1967 lines, and declaring a third intifada against Israel.
are now open,” declared PLO Secretary- General Yasser Abed Rabbo following an
emergency meeting of PLO and Fatah officials in Ramallah to discuss the
repercussions of the two leaders’ remarks.
Another Palestinian official,
Nabil Sha’ath, went as far as announcing that Netanyahu’s speech before Congress
was nothing less than a declaration of war.
While the PA has directed
most of its public criticism toward Netanyahu, many Palestinian officials also
did not conceal their deep disappointment with Obama.
officials and spokesmen in Ramallah were careful not to voice their anti- Obama
views in public. PA president Mahmoud Abbas instructed his aides to refrain from
commenting publicly on Obama’s speeches at the State Department and the annual
AIPAC gathering in Washington.
Abbas, too, is reported to be extremely
disappointed with Obama for allegedly “endorsing” Netanyahu’s policies. But
Abbas can’t afford to lose the backing of the US, and that’s why he and his top
aides have refrained from openly criticizing the American leader.
president is particularly worried about Obama’s opposition to his intention to
ask the UN to recognize a Palestinian state. Abbas’s biggest fear is that most
EU countries would endorse Obama’s stance and refrain from supporting the UN
Remarked one of Abbas’s advisers: “Instead of exerting pressure
on Israel to stop construction in the settlements, Obama is directing the heat
toward us. Obama is sending us conflicting messages; on the one hand, he is
saying that he supports the establishment of a Palestinian state, but on the
other hand he’s threatening to foil our effort to seek international recognition
[of a state].”
In private, many senior Palestinian officials claimed that
Obama was “afraid” of losing Jewish votes in the next presidential election.
Others said his speech before AIPAC was a clear sign that the pro-Israel “Jewish
lobby” in the US was so powerful that even the president felt
Hamas, meanwhile, has been saying in public what PA
officials are saying off the record and behind closed doors, namely that the US
is not an honest broker and Obama is deceiving and misleading the
The feeling in Ramallah this week was that Netanyahu had
succeeded in convincing Obama to oppose not only Abbas’s bid to unilaterally
seek UN recognition, but also to come out against the Egyptian-brokered
reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas.
Palestinian leaders in Ramallah is that Obama did not call for a cessation of
settlement construction and did not mention Jerusalem or the “right of return”
for Palestinian refugees to their original homes inside Israel.
ways, Netanyahu’s speech before Congress did not come as a surprise to Abbas and
his team. In fact, most Palestinian officials said they would have been
surprised had Netanyahu expressed different positions.
Abbas and his
spokesmen seemed to be more disturbed by the numerous standing ovations the
prime minister received during his speech in Congress than by the content of his
Reflecting this sentiment, Tayeb Abdel Rahim, a senior aide to
Abbas, lashed out at Congress, accusing its members of disgraceful
“Were George Washington or Abraham Lincoln to rise from their
graves, I don’t think they would get the same reception from Congress as
Netanyahu did,” he said.
Palestinian officials admitted this week that in
light of Obama’s opposition to Abbas’s plan to go to the UN in September, they
might be forced to abandon the idea.
In the past few days, Abbas himself
has hinted more than once that he could reconsider his decision if Israel agreed
to stop settlement construction and accepted the 1967 lines as the basis for a
In other words, Abbas is asking the Americans to find
a way to hold him back from going to the UN. Abbas’s message to the Obama
administration is: Please give me a ladder to climb down from this high
The last thing Abbas needs is to be seen succumbing to American or
Israeli pressure to drop his plan to seek UN recognition of a state. If he
backtracks, he will have to come up with a good and convincing explanation for
the same Palestinians whom he has been promising in recent months that he will
go ahead with his plan regardless of American and Israeli
Palestinians have yet to forgive Abbas for surrendering to US
pressure and dropping his support for a motion at the UN Human Rights Council
that would have condemned Israeli “war crimes” during the 2008 Operation Cast
Lead offensive in the Gaza Strip.
At the emergency meeting in Ramallah
this week, Abbas said he would be willing to drop his plan if negotiations with
Israel were resumed on the basis of the 1967 lines and if Israel agreed to halt
He also dismissed allegations that his plan was
aimed more at delegitimizing and isolating Israel than seeking statehood. Abbas
heard about this allegation when he met earlier in the week in Amman with
Jordan’s King Abdullah II, who had just returned from a visit to the White
Abbas stopped short, however, of criticizing Obama’s position
toward the Palestinian state and the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation pact. Instead,
he said he saw some “positive” elements in Obama’s State Department address,
especially his talk about the 1967 lines as the basis for a two-state solution.
The PA president is not in a situation that enables him to enter a confrontation
with the US administration.
Now that he knows the US is strongly opposed
to his statehood plan, Abbas is trying to enlist the support of Arab countries
for the September move at the UN. At his request, Arab League foreign ministers
are scheduled to hold an urgent meeting in Qatar this weekend to discuss the
repercussions of Obama’s recent remarks.
The Palestinians are hoping the
ministers will come up with a unified response to Obama on behalf of the Arab
League, one that will make it look as if the crisis is between the Arab world
and the White House, and not only a Palestinian-US conflict.