Abbas’s next move?

In the wake of a Palestinian win at the UN will the PA president continue to confront Israel in international bodies, or reenter bilateral negotiations in a stronger negotiating position?

Mahmoud Abbas (photo credit: REUTERS)
Mahmoud Abbas
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In less than a month, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has made major headway in his campaign to internationalize the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Two nights before Christmas, the UN Security Council passed a resolution critical of settlement construction, which Abbas and the Palestinian leadership spearheaded. Five days later, Secretary of State John Kerry delivered a speech harshly critiquing settlement construction and defending the US’s decision to abstain in the vote on the resolution.
Abbas now has his eyes set on achieving another diplomatic victory – at an international peace conference in Paris on January 15, which he hopes will create a multilateral mechanism to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the basis of international law.
While his recent victories have had no effect on the reality on the ground for Palestinians, as settlement construction has not been halted, Abbas and the Palestinian leadership have shown no signs of halting their international campaign.
Ghassan Khatib, a former PA minister, said that, in the foreseeable future, he expects Abbas to move forward with his international campaign.
“If Israel does not institute a settlement freeze, I think the Palestinian side will continue to pursue a strategy in the international arena in using international law to put pressure on Israel,” Khatib, who now serves as vice president of Bir Zeit University, said. “The bottom line is that we should not expect bilateral negotiations in the near future.”
Israel last agreed to freeze settlements for 10 months during US-sponsored negotiations between 2009 and 2010. Abbas has said he would resume talks if Israel implements a freeze, whereas Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he will reenter negotiations only without preconditions.
Khatib said that instead of reentering bilateral negotiations, Abbas will pursue the creation of a multilateral mechanism to advance the peace process.
“Abbas will try to replace the bilateral with a multilateral approach, with the participation of international agencies and based on international law to oversee the peace process.”
The Palestinian leadership has lobbied for more than 18 months for the creation of a multilateral mechanism with a timetable to resolve the conflict similar to that of the P5+1, which negotiated the Iran nuclear deal.
Qadura Fares, a Fatah leader close to the jailed Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti, echoed Khatib’s analysis, saying that the PA president has no intention to pursue negotiations without a settlement freeze.
“Abu Mazen [Abbas] knows that there is no point to pursuing open-ended negotiations while Israel continues to build settlements in the land which will be our future state,” Fares stated.
“With this right-wing Israeli government, the leadership will continue to appeal to international bodies until we achieve our rights, including a state.”
The last round of negotiations, which were not conditioned on a settlement freeze, ended in May 2014, with the parties unable to agree on parameters for which final-status talks would be based.
Jihad Harb, a Palestinian researcher and analyst, also said that he expects the international strategy to take primacy over negotiations.
“Abbas will use UNSC 2334 to confront Israel on the international level for settlement building, strengthen the BDS movement, and possibly go to the ICC,” Harb stated. “While I think Abbas wants to return to negotiations to deal with the PA’s funding crisis and deliver tangible change, without a settlement freeze and with the makeup of the current Israeli government, I do not see their return any time soon.”
The Palestinian leadership has only tacitly embraced BDS to date, as the overwhelming majority of imports into Palestinian territories come from Israel. Nonetheless, the Palestinian leadership has said that it would like to see European countries boycott settlement products and has threatened to carry out a boycott of settlement products in the West Bank.
Meanwhile, other observers have argued that the Palestinian leadership’s recent international successes have strengthened the Palestinian negotiating position and given it the incentive to make an effort to return to direct bilateral talks.
Ksenia Svetlova, a Zionist Union MK, said that the conclusion from her meeting with Fatah leader Jibril Rajoub is that the Palestinian side wants to renew negotiations with Israel.
“Abu Mazen wants to return to negotiations with Israel. He understands that international forums gave him symbolic victories, but the Palestinian people want to feel changes on the ground,” Svetlova said, according to an Israeli Radio report.
On a similar note, Uri Savir, the former director-general of the Foreign Ministry, reported that members of the Palestinian leadership are considering a restoration of negotiations, now that Security Council 2334 has granted the Palestinian leadership a stronger negotiating position.
Yet, while Khatib, Fares, and Harb all agree that the Palestinian negotiating position has been strengthened with Security Council 2334, they believe the UN resolution is not the factor that will bring Abbas to the negotiating table.
“Abbas knows that we cannot have an open-ended negotiation which leads to nowhere, as we have in the past,” Fares said.
“Instead, the president wants to build on the UNSC 2334 to make Israel recognize international law and allow us to achieve our rights.”