Abbas’s outbursts highlight diplomatic dead ends

Observers said Abbas has run out of diplomatic options and turned to insults and accusations out of desperation.
Sunday 25/03/2018
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (C) speaks during a meeting with the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, on March 19. (Reuters)
Cornered. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (C) speaks during a meeting with the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, on March 19. (Reuters)

LONDON - Outbursts by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas against Hamas and the US ambassador to Israel appear to signal that diplomatic efforts towards reconciliation and restarting the Middle East peace process hit a dead end.

Abbas, speaking at a Palestinian leadership gathering, lashed out at US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman because of his support for Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank. Friedman said Israeli settlers were building on “their land.”

“The son of dog says they build [settlements] on their land? He is a settler and his family are settlers and he is the US ambassador in Tel Aviv. What should we expect from him?” Abbas said angrily.

Abbas criticised US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the plan to move the US Embassy to the city and the Americans’ cutoff of hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

He accused the Trump administration of being unfairly biased in favour of Israel and rejected the White House peace proposal, which is still being developed.

“Then they said, ‘Wait for our plan.’ What shall we wait for? We will not,” Abbas said. “Many said, ‘Why don’t you go to Washington?’ They want us to go to Washington to sign. We will not accept that and we will not let it pass.”

Friedman, in a speech in Jerusalem at a conference on combating global anti-Semitism, said: “His (Abbas’s) response was to refer to me as ‘son of a dog.’ Anti-Semitism or political discourse? Not for me to judge. I leave that all up to you.”

US Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt issued a statement calling Abbas’s comment “highly inappropriate.” He said the Palestinian leader needed “to choose between hateful rhetoric and concrete and practical efforts to improve the quality of life of his people.”

US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said: “President Abbas’s comments were outrageous and unhelpful. We urge the Palestinian Authority to focus its efforts on improving the lives of the Palestinian people and advancing the cause of peace.”

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said the Trump administration’s decisions on Jerusalem appeared to have brought Abbas to the point of verbal attacks on a US official.

“For the first time in decades, the US administration has stopped spoiling the Palestinian leaders and tells them: enough is enough,” Netanyahu said on Twitter. “Apparently the shock of the truth has caused them to lose it.”

Peace talks aimed at a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have stalled but Israeli settlement expansion, which is illegal under international law, has continued.

Abbas also appears to be frustrated with Hamas, saying there has been “zero” progress in reconciliation efforts between the rival Palestinian sides.

Hamas and Fatah (cartoon by Yaser Ahmed)

He blamed Hamas for a bomb attack on the convoy of Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah in Gaza. Hamdallah and Palestinian security chief Majid Faraj were among those in the convoy when it was attacked with a roadside bomb in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip on March 13. They were uninjured.

“We congratulate the two big brothers (Hamdallah and Faraj) that they are safe after the sinful and despicable attack that was carried out against them by the Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip,” Abbas said.

He offered no evidence of Hamas’s involvement but said he did not trust Hamas to investigate the incident honestly.

“We do not want investigation from them. We do not want information from them and we do not want anything from them because we know exactly that they, the Hamas movement, were the ones who committed this incident,” he said.

“In my capacity as the president of the Palestinian people I have tolerated much to regain unity and unite the homeland and I was met with rejection by Hamas and their illegitimate authority.”

Hamas called Abbas’s comments irresponsible and said they aimed to “burn bridges and reinforce divisions.” The group previously denied involvement in the bombing.

Observers said Abbas has run out of diplomatic options and turned to insults and accusations out of desperation.

“The elderly leader’s way of escaping his troubles is by hurling insults at Americans and imposing further sanctions on the Gaza Strip,” wrote Haaretz’s military correspondent and defence analyst Amos Harel.

“His declarations and actions could bring closer a military conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Strip and continue to destabilise already-tense relations with Israel in the West Bank.

“Israeli security services are concerned about the potential of two parallel processes: a military escalation with Hamas in the Gaza Strip and a weakening of security coordination with the [Palestinian Authority] in the West Bank.”