Israel frustrates Abbas, yet still needs him 2009-11-08 23:04:19   Print

    By David Harris

    JERUSALEM, Nov. 8 (Xinhua) -- It is not the first time Mahmoud Abbas has said he intends quitting as Palestinian leader. When he said on Thursday he does not plan to seek re-election, the general feeling amongst Israelis was that Israel plays a role in his decision, but still needs the moderate leader to stay on.



    This time, however, he may well be tempted to carry it out, according to Mohammed Dajani, a professor of political science and founder of the Islamic organization of Wasatia Palestine.

    "I think he means it. The post of Palestinian president no longer has the power and authority because it is always undermined by Israel," said Dajani.

    Israel's continued refusal to freeze settlement activity at this stage in line with American and Palestinian demands has left Abbas weakened at home.

    There are two main schools of thoughts in the Palestinian political arena when it comes to dealings with Israel. One, championed by Hamas, the main rival of Abbas' Fatah party, says Israel cannot be trusted and the best means to deal with the enemy is through "resistance." The other, adopted by Abbas, is that negotiations are the best way forward, but if those fail, Palestinians can always revert to the path of resistance.

    Abbas' standing in the Palestinian street is in decline. Polls put him at his lowest level of popularity since coming into office just under five years ago. The drop in support for him, particularly of late, is put down by pollsters and analysts to the fact that he has gained little or nothing from Israel.

    The incident that brought Abbas' popularity to rock bottom was his perceived support last month of a move by some countries to delay a vote on the Goldstone report, which summarized an investigation into Israel's military operation in and around Gaza in December and January.

    Then, a week ago, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confirmed what had been generally understood for a few weeks -- the United States was backtracking on its insistence that Israel immediately freeze all construction work in its settlements in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem.

    Those two events have left Abbas isolated diplomatically, and attacked from all sides at home.



    Dajani says the domestic political mess is also a factor in Abbas' decision. Differences within Fatah and more so the ongoing schism between Fatah and Hamas mean Abbas is unable to operate effectively at home.

    Indeed, this element of the problems faced by Abbas is more acute, and is the principal reason behind his decision not to seekre-election, rather than Israel's lack of movement on the settlements issue, said Ely Karmon, a senior research scholar at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Israel's Interdisciplinary Center.

    "This is definitely about internal issues. Over and beyond the mini crisis with the Americans, this is about negotiations with Hamas, the Arab states that failed to support him, and because of some within his own Fatah over the way he dealt with Goldstone," said Karmon.

    The Israeli analyst argued that Abbas is serious in his intention not to run for office but is also using the move as a tactic to make gains in various areas.



    Speaking in Tel Aviv on Saturday night, Israel's President Shimon Peres urged Abbas to remain in office. For people like veteran peacemaker Peres, Abbas represents a pragmatic Palestinian strand that wants a lasting deal with Israel.

    Both Karmon and Dajani agreed that Abbas remaining in office is in Israel's interest.

    In Dajani's opinion, Israel needs a stable Palestinian Authority with whom it can do business. He cautioned that further destabilization will lead to Hamas extending its area of influence from the Palestinian coastal enclave of the Gaza Strip to the West Bank.

    "I think that a stable political system in the West Bank is in the interest of Israel as much as it is in the interest of the Palestinians," said Dajani.

    Stability is currently a buzz word among leading officials in the Palestinian Authority. Presidential and parliamentary elections are slated for January 24, but because of the lack of political goodwill between Fatah and Hamas, it seems increasingly unlikely they will take place.

    "He's not a strong leader, but at this particular juncture, it's better we have Abbas," said Karmon.

    Assuming that Fatah would retain control of the Palestinian Authority, the most popular candidate to replace Abbas is Marwan al-Barghouti. He was the leader of the young Fatah faction until he began serving five life sentences in an Israeli jail in 2002 for what Israel said was his role in terrorist attacks against Israelis.

    Even if he was to be released, al-Barghouti would be perceived as an "Israeli puppet," said Karmon. That would only serve to advance Hamas politically, he added.

    Some in the Palestinian arena think Abbas can be talked out of his decision. Rallies of support were held in West Bank cities on Saturday for the man who was previously Palestinian prime minister and head of the Negotiations Affairs Department of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

    Arguably, Abbas' fate lies in the hands of the Americans. If they can persuade Israel to make major goodwill gestures towards Abbas over the next few weeks, the Palestinian leader may yet be persuaded to remain in office. However, even if that did happen, the lack of maneuverability at home because of internal political wrangling will likely leave Abbas, as Karmon describes him, "a lame duck president."

Editor: Mu Xuequan
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