Abbas faces most dire moment of his presidency
Hebron, West Bank - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas faces the most dire time in his presidency: divisions that have ripped apart Palestinian ranks, failed peace talks with Israel that have undermined his long-sought quest for statehood, the rise of Islamic militancy in the Middle East and the growing influence of Shia Iran that is drawing the attention of the Arabs away from the Palestinian issue.
Drastic options have been recently floated in Palestinian circles or are at least being talked about as a way to draw attention back to the plight of Palestinians.
One idea being circulated is to annul all peace agreements with Israel, starting with the fundamental 1992 Oslo accords, which failed to achieve its primary goal of Palestinian statehood.
Another idea would be for Abbas to dissolve the Palestinian Authority (PA), which Israel virtually stripped of all powers.
Under that move, one or more steps could follow. One is to announce a government-in-exile, shouldering financial, administrative and other responsibilities of nearly 4.5 million Palestinians and their lands in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip on the Israeli occupation.
An alternative is to unilaterally proclaim an independent Palestinian state and immediately declare it under Israeli occupation.
PA official Ahmed Majdalani said he consulted with Palestinian factions, including some in Syria, considering “some decisive options”.
“We can’t remain under the Israeli status quo any longer,” he said. “It’s been 23 years since the peace negotiations kicked off and things are only getting worse for the Palestinian people.”
Abbas’s announcement of a Palestinian state under occupation could come during the UN General Assembly, which recognised a “state of Palestine” in 2012, Majdalani said.
The level of Abbas’s frustration was evident when he and nine other members of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) resigned August 22nd. Reports on the resignations and their reasons were contradictory.
While Abbas said the decision was “irreversible”, Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator with Israel who was recently named the PLO’s secretary-general, said the resignations were “unofficial” until approved or refused by Palestinian legislators.
Ghassan Shakaa, one of the officials who quit, said the move was aimed at “injecting new blood in the PLO” to “renew the work and the legitimacy of the Executive Committee”.
But another Executive Committee member, Mustafa Barghouti, told The Arab Weekly that the purported resignations were “technical means” to ensure the quick assembly of the Palestinian parliament-in-exile, known as the Palestine National Council (PNC).
Even that institution was dragged into the Palestinian tumultuous debate. A meeting of the PNC was called shortly after the resignations. The PNC was supposed to convene September 14th.
But on September 9th, PNC Speaker Salim Zaanoun announced that the meeting was postponed indefinitely, saying more preparations were needed to convene the largely lethargic and long-ignored body, which had last met in Gaza in 1996.
Abbas appeared eager to have the congress assemble, clearly to consolidate his power by garnering renewed support from the people’s representatives as he weighs his options.
Abbas has voiced impatience with Israel’s intransigence in peacemaking. The talks have been stalled for years and there is little chance that they will resume under the current Israeli cabinet, the most hard line in recent history.
The Palestinian president is also nervous about Israel’s negotiations with his rival, the militant Hamas rulers in Gaza. Dealings between Israel and the Palestinian group it considers a terrorist organisation may further sideline the PA and deepen existing Palestinian divisions. Hamas violently seized Gaza from the PA in June 2007, sparking a deep rift with the PLO’s influential Fatah faction headed by Abbas.
Adding fuel to the fire is what Palestinians see as a lackadaisical US approach towards their peacemaking with Israel. Palestinians worry that the issue will be shelved until a new US administration is in place in 2017.
Regionally, Abbas’s Arab “brothers” are preoccupied with civil wars or militant violence, such as in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya, while others are anxious over Iran’s growing influence in a Sunni-dominated Arab world.
Al Quds Open University lecturer Adel Shadid said Palestinians were at a “crucial, historic juncture” in the wake of the “catastrophic failure of the peacemaking process”.
“Israel used the negotiations as a ploy to undermine our quest for statehood and claims to East Jerusalem as the capital of our state.
It has also been beefing up settlements in East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank to create a new reality on the ground and impede any viable negotiated settlement,” Shadid said.
Therefore, Shadid added, what is needed are crucial moves, such as “reconsidering Palestinian recognition of Israel, declaring an end to the political process and ceasing economic and security relations with Israel”.