Analysis: Tripartite summit undermines Abbas

Analysis Tripartite sum

Palestinian Authority officials in Ramallah have not hidden their disappointment with the tripartite summit that was held in New York and which brought together US President Barack Obama, Prime Minister Binymain Netanyahu and PA President Mahmoud Abbas. On Wednesday, the officials said they were not only disappointed with the outcome of the summit which, they noted, did not achieve any breakthrough in the stalled peace talks, but also with the circumstances under which the meeting was arranged. Even many representatives of Abbas's Fatah faction voiced their deep disappointment over his agreement to meet with Netanyahu unconditionally. Some went as far as accusing Obama of "humiliating" Abbas by forcing him to meet with Netanyahu against his will and contrary to his pledges. Last Friday, following yet another meeting between US special Middle East envoy George Mitchell and Abbas in Ramallah, senior officials in the PA president's office rushed to announce for the 1000th time that he would not agree to meet with Netanyahu. The officials told reporters that Abbas had "reaffirmed" during the meeting with the US emissary that he remained "strongly opposed" to the idea of meeting with Netanyahu or resuming peace talks with Israel unless all construction in the settlements was halted. But the surprise came only hours later when the White House announced that Obama would meet with Netanyahu and Abbas on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly deliberations in New York. Asked to explain the discrepancy between the two positions - that of Abbas's aides on Friday and the White House invitation - a top Palestinian official said: "The president [Abbas] couldn't resist the heavy pressure the Americans put on him. In fact, he went to the meeting with Netanyahu against his will." Another official complained that the meeting with Netanyahu had caused "grave damage" to Abbas's credibility and standing among Palestinians. "For the past seven or eight months, President Abbas has been declaring day and night that he wouldn't meet with Netanyahu or resume the peace talks unless Israel froze all settlement construction, including new homes that are being built in east Jerusalem," the official pointed out. "What are the Palestinians supposed to think of their president when they see him doing the exact opposite of what he had promised them? How will anyone from now on take him seriously?" The official also noted that the meeting with Netanyahu was being used by Hamas and several other Palestinian factions to discredit Abbas and depict him as a puppet that receives orders from the Americans. In an effort to curtail or minimize damage, Abbas and his spokesmen have since taken advantage of every podium available to explain their stance. Their defense is based mainly on the argument that Abbas went to New York "out of respect for Obama" and to brief the US president on the PA's position regarding the resumption of the peace talks with Israel. "Our position after the meeting is the same as it was before the meeting in New York," Abbas explained in a statement. "We came to New York out of respect for President Obama and his tireless efforts in favor of the Palestinian people in various fields." Political analyst Khaled Mansour said that Abbas's decision to participate in the tripartite summit came as a "new disappointment" because it showed to what extent the PA leadership was willing to succumb to American pressure. Abbas, he added, is under the illusion that the US is a fair and honest broker in the Israeli-Arab conflict. Mansour said that Palestinians across the political spectrum had been encouraged by Abbas's decision to boycott the peace talks as long as Israel was continuing to build in the settlements. Another political analyst, Hani al-Masri, said that Abbas agreed "grudgingly" to attend the summit because he felt that the Arab countries were not supporting him enough. "They [the Arab countries] have been asking him to remain steadfast and persistent, but none of them have done anything to support his steadfastness and persistence," he noted. According to al-Masri, some of the Arab countries had even asked Abbas secretly to accept the invitation to meet with Netanyahu. Summing up Abbas's predicament, the analyst added: "When he says yes, he's accused of compromising Palestinian rights; when he says no, he's accused of failing to grasp the reality."