Rice Abbas 298.88.
(photo credit: AP)
It's clear by now that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his top aides in Ramallah are no longer interested in attending the US-sponsored peace conference in November.
A number of Abbas aides already began whining about the conference over the weekend, when some of them told The Jerusalem Post that they were planning to ask the US to postpone it under the pretext that the Palestinians still aren't prepared for a final settlement.
The tone in Ramallah grew sharper later in the week, with PA officials warning that Abbas would boycott the conference in protest against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's refusal to sign a declaration of principles addressing three key issues: the status of Jerusalem, the final borders of the future Palestinian state and the problem of Palestinian refugees.
The shift in the PA's position toward the conference is largely attributed to Abbas's failure to persuade the majority of the Arab countries to take part. The Saudis, Egyptians, Jordanians and Qataris are said to have informed Abbas that they see no point in attending under the current circumstances, especially in light of the ongoing power struggle between Hamas and Fatah.
Abbas does not want to repeat the "mistake" of his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, who went to the botched Camp David meeting in 2000 without the backing of his Arab brethren.
The PA chief is well aware that he does not have a mandate to strike a deal on Jerusalem or the refugees without the majority of the Arab and Islamic countries. He does not want to be held responsible for an historic agreement with Israel.
Abbas is also reluctant to participate in a highly controversial conference held under the auspices of the US at a time when the Palestinians are more divided than ever. He knows that any deal he brings back will be severely criticized by Hamas and many other Palestinians, who will accuse him of succumbing to American and Israeli pressure.
Moreover, Abbas and some of his aides remain skeptical about Israel's true intentions. They believe that Olmert is a weak leader who won't be able to deliver because of his political and coalition problems. Similarly, the Palestinians don't believe that US President George W. Bush, whose term in office is nearing its end, is capable of exerting enough pressure on Israel.
Abbas, in short, is afraid of failure. He's afraid that the Israelis and the Americans will blame him for the failure of the summit. He's also afraid of the reactions of Hamas and the Arab world. As one of his aides put it, "Abbas does not want to find himself in the same position as Yasser Arafat after the Camp David summit. Then, the Israelis and President Bill Clinton blamed Arafat for foiling the peace process. And Abbas hasn't forgotten what happened to Arafat in his final years, when he was isolated and humiliated in his office."