For the Palestinians, peace process with Israel is dead

Palestinian Affairs: "All options are now open," declares Yasser Abed Rabbo following Netanyahu's trip to Washington.

By
May 27, 2011 16:52
PLO Exec Ctee SecGen Abed Rabbo

PLO Exec. C'tee Sec.-Gen Abed Rabbo 311 (R). (photo credit: Mohamad Torokman/Reuters)

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.

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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.

“All options 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.

Yet Palestinian 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.

The PA 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 motion.

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 “intimidated.”

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 Palestinians.

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.

Also bothering 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.

In many 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 remarks.

Reflecting this sentiment, Tayeb Abdel Rahim, a senior aide to Abbas, lashed out at Congress, accusing its members of disgraceful behavior.

“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 two-state solution.

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 tree.

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 opposition.

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 settlement construction.

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 House.

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.


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