Palestinian Affairs: Palestinian losing his authority?

Nothing seems to be going right for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas these days.

abbas fat face 29888 ap (photo credit: AP)
abbas fat face 29888 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Unconfirmed reports in Ramallah this week suggested that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was seriously considering submitting his resignation. According to the reports, Abbas has reached the conclusion that there is no chance that any kind of an agreement can be reached with Israel before the end of the year. Abbas's belief was enhanced during his last visit to Washington, where he met with US President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Abbas, his aides say, emerged from the talks "depressed and angry" because both made it clear to him that the Palestinians can forget about the possibility that Israel would fully withdraw to the pre-1967 borders. As one of the aides put it, "The Americans have endorsed the Israeli strategy that there won't be a full withdrawal from the West Bank and the Arab part of Jerusalem. They have also accepted Israel's demand that Jewish settlers would continue to live in large settlement blocs in the West Bank even after a Palestinian state is established." Another aide said that as far as the PA is concerned, the prospects of achieving a breakthrough in the talks before the end of the year are "zero." The gap between the two sides remains as wide as ever on most of the crucial issues, especially the "right of return" for the refugees, the future status of Jerusalem and the presence of the settlements in the West Bank, he added. Abbas flew directly from Washington to Sharm e-Sheikh, where he complained to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak about the US stance. The Americans, he reportedly told Mubarak, "are not serious about achieving an agreement between us and Israel." Mubarak promised to raise the issue with the US administration and the Israeli government, and advised Abbas to be more patient. This week Abbas lodged a similar complaint with the Saudis, in the hope that they would also intervene with the US administration. Abbas's major concern is that failure to reach an agreement in the coming months would seriously undermine his authority, paving the way for a Hamas takeover of the West Bank. One of his top aides quoted him as saying that unless something positive happens over the next few weeks, he will have no choice but to resign and "spend more time with my family and grandchildren." According to the aide, the Americans and Israelis haven't yet realized that this is perhaps the "last opportunity" to achieve an historic deal between the Palestinians and Israel. "The day will come when the Israelis and Americans are going to miss President Abbas," he remarked. "Whoever comes after President Abbas is not going to be better." DISILLUSIONED WITH the the Bush administration, the PA has been trying for the past few weeks to persuade the Russians to get involved in the Middle East process - a move that has not been welcomed in Jerusalem and Washington thus far. Before heading to Washington, Abbas stopped off in Moscow, where he urged the Russian leaders to host another peace conference similar to the one that was held in Annapolis, Maryland, late last year. The Russians told Abbas that in principle they had no problem with the idea, but would prefer to consult with the Americans and Europeans about it. In other words, Moscow's position is that it would agree to host a peace conference on condition that the US and EU were not opposed to it. Abbas's visit to the US was overshadowed by news about progress on the Israeli-Syrian track and a breakthrough in talks over reaching a temporary truce between Israel and the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. The Arab and Western media paid little attention to his talks with Bush and Rice, focusing instead on Hamas's acceptance of the Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire and Turkey's mediation efforts between Jerusalem and Damascus. "Hamas managed to spoil Abbas's visit by stealing the show," said a Palestinian newspaper editor in Ramallah. "Almost at the same time that Abbas was meeting with Bush, Hamas leaders held a dramatic press conference in Cairo to declare their readiness to accept a truce with Israel. Also at the same time, the media was overwhelmed with reports about behind-the-scenes talks about Israel and Syria over the future of the Golan Heights." Although Abbas and his aides have publicly welcomed the cease-fire and the reported progress on the Israeli-Syrian track, in private they have expressed deep concern that these two developments would further undermine their power. Abbas is well aware that a cease-fire would serve the interests of Hamas and consolidate its grip on Gaza. His main concern is that Hamas is being recognized as a legitimate and major player in the Palestinian arena, with its leaders being invited to Cairo and Doha for talks on the future of the Strip. Former US president Jimmy Carter's meetings with Hamas leaders in Ramallah, Cairo and Damascus have also been seen by the PA as part of an attempt to "legitimize" the Islamist movement. With regard to Syria, Abbas's fear is that the international community will start paying more attention to the possibility of reaching a peace agreement between Israel and Syria than in pursuing efforts to strike a deal between the Israelis and Palestinians. The PA has never considered the Syrian regime as its friend. On the contrary, Syria's continued support for Hamas and other radical groups has always been a source of concern for the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah. Some PA officials continue to maintain that had it not been for the full backing of the Syrians and their allies, the Iranians, Hamas would never have been able to take full control over the Gaza Strip in June 2007. Even if the 73-year-old Abbas does not quit in the near future, he has less than a year before his term in office expires. Although he has yet to announce his future plans, Abbas has hinted on several occasions that he might not seek another term. His advanced age and his apparent fatigue have encouraged many others to start thinking about running in the next presidential election. One of them is jailed Fatah operative Marwan Barghouti, who is believed to be preparing for his election campaign from behind bars. In recent weeks, Barghouti has stepped up his political activities by giving numerous interviews to the media and sending letters to Fatah activists and leaders in the West Bank and Gaza. In the 2005 presidential election, Barghouti presented his candidacy, but dropped out of the race at the last minute, after being promised the No. 1 slot on the Fatah parliamentary list. Now he is said to be encouraged by the results of some public opinion polls that give him a lead over other Fatah candidates.