Daniel R. DePetris: The Political Docket

Another Setback for Israeli-Palestinian Peace

Posted in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict by Dan on November 8, 2009
misplaced optimism-walt

Goodbye Mr. Abbas, you may be missed

For all of our Middle East watchers out there, I am sure you know by know that Mahmoud Abbas- the Palestinian President and leader of the globally recognized Fatah-Party- has decided not to run for re-election.  In his comments, he not only stressed his profound frustration with the White House over Israeli settlement policies…he also made it rather clear that the main reason for his departure was due to an Israeli unwillingness to constructively negotiate.

Some claim that Mr. Abbas’ resignation may pave the way for a new outlook on Mideast Peace.  This certainly is a worthwhile prospect…Abbas is widely unpopular among the Palestinian people and is most often referred to as a Washington-puppet.  Perhaps a new administration in charge will finally bridge the pervasive divide among Palestinians, thereby approaching Israel in a position of strength.

I have heard other arguments that Abbas’ departure really doesn’t matter all that much, for the 2010 Palestinain elections will probably not take place.

I, on the other hand, have a much more simplified analysis of the entire ordeal.

All in all, I truly believe this is a strategic political calculation on the part of Mr. Abbas. By announcing his resignation and basically blaming the Obama administration for the entire ordeal, what Abbas is essentially doing is diverting the attention away from himself and placing it on yet another American presidency. Granted, he may not be wrong in this regard; President Obama was rather forceful to the Isrealis on halting settlement construction during his Cairo speech, that is before he was coerced by P.M. Netanyahu during the U.N. General Assembly. For Abbas, indeed the entire Palestinian population, this dramatic 180-degree turn by the President is deeply frustrating for the prospects of their own independent state…away from Israeli control and Israeli supervision.

However, lets not forget that Abbas has not necessarily been successful himself. After all, a number of developments occurred on his watch; Hamas won the Palestinian Parliamentary Elections against a Fatah Party riddled by corruption and inadequacy in 2006; Hamas embarrassed the PA security force in the Gaza Strip in 2007; and the economic outlook remains rather bleak today (despite some successful projects).

And what about Abbas’ awful ratings in the West Bank generally? Perhaps Mr. Abbas is desperately trying to improve his unpopular image by engaging in a typical blame-game scenario…”it is the American administration, not my own ineffective rule, that has resulted in the current failings of a two-state solution.” This seems highly plausible, considering that the PA leader has been detaching himself from the United States ever since the Goldstone Report surfaced.

-Daniel R. DePetris


11 Responses

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  1. HenryFTP said, on November 8, 2009 at 5:37 pm

    I still don’t understand why American officials seem to think that the Netanyahu government is serious about peace talks. In the century long dispute between the Zionists and the Palestinians, actions have always spoken louder than words. The Netanyahu government, notwithstanding the participation of Barak and a few other power-hungry Labor politicians, is a right-wing government full of the descendants of the Revisionist movement. How is this government a “viable partner for peace”?

  2. janbekster said, on November 8, 2009 at 5:38 pm

    Again, one is no match to Prof. Lynch, and I don’t want the Obama-ites on my back, but the more I thought about this particular issue, the more I started coming to the conclusion that, President Obama’s strategy vis a vis the peace negotiations was wrong from the start.

    I think President Obama’s speech in Egypt, is part and parcel of leaning on the side which he thinks he can lean on, with very little political damage; if any at all to his administration; being the Arab side, so that this side can lean in turn on the Palestinians to talk to Bibi Netanyahu’s government. So by saying that the settlements are illegal, something we have all heard since the days of former President Carter’s administration, and his belief in a two-state solution, something we have already known as the goal, since the Madrid Conference of 1991, he can induce the Arabs and even the Muslims to twist the arm of the Palestinians to talk to the Israeli government, and gain the reputation consequently, of being the honest peace broker.

    However, it turned out that, what he said though very necessary, was already said, and even tried before. And it turned out to be insufficient, because it seems that he did not have any intention to lean on the Israeli side right from the start. Is there a need for him to re-evaluate his strategy?. I think there is, to say the least. I mean unless he feels that he can get away by leaning on the wrong side.

    As for Mr. Abbas, well, I think he has entered the testing grounds, of whether he gets the status of being indispensable to the Palestinian people or not. Personally, I don’t feel that, any one man or woman, is bigger than his/her own people, therefore, no one really is indipensable.

    khairi janbek.paris/france

  3. David in DC said, on November 8, 2009 at 5:39 pm

    “The settlement freeze demand, which is being blamed wrongly for the current problems, was not a luxury — it was essential for the Palestinian political track.”

    The Palestinians don’t deserve any “freebies” any more than the Israelis do. If they wanted a concession, they should have put one up of their own.

    I tend to think Marc has this one entirely wrong, reversing cause and effect. The demand for a freeze, if it is essential, is only essential because Abbas made it so with his ultimatum. Abbas was more popular than Hamas before his demand for a settlement freeze. Now that will likely reverse itself if he backs down from an ultimatum that, in hindsight, was politically foolish for him to give. But he was emboldened by the Obama administration’s pressure on Israel, which, again in hindsight, should not have included a public demand for a total freeze. The pressure could have included other things designed to give the US credibility with the Arab side, and should have been coordinated ahead of time with the Israelis behind the scenes.

    • janbekster said, on November 8, 2009 at 5:39 pm

      I really don’t think Mr. David, that the Washington administration seriously pressurised Israel on the settlements. Moreover, I don’t believe that many in the Obama administration thought actually, that 100% freeze in the settlements activities is possible. A lesser mortal like yours sincerely cannot varify this particular point, but perhaps Marc Lynch can verify it through his friends in the administration. As your good self is aware, and as I wrote above, the settlements’ illegality talk has been going on since the days of Mr. Carter, and the creation of a Palestinian state, since Madrid 1991, with little results either way.

      But if your good self wants an example of pressure on Israel, to compare and contrast with what the current administration’s public relations machinery is claiming, it is the case Of Secretary Baker during the Bush snr. administration, when he threatened to cut aid to Israel, matching it Dollar for every Dollar spent on the building of settlements, and withheld the 10 billion Dollars loan guarantees, which Israel needed to absorb the Russian immigrants then, until settlements activities stop. And guess what?, it worked.

      As for Mr. Abbas, I think he upped the ante, because he felt he had reached the end of the road, and if he is to pursue further negotiations with Israel, and on the terms of the Israeli government, then he will need overwhelming Palestinian and Arab support to do so. His retriment declaration may well be, as a possibility, in this vein.

      khairi janbek.paris/france

      • David in DC said, on November 8, 2009 at 5:40 pm

        “Moreover, I don’t believe that many in the Obama administration thought actually, that 100% freeze in the settlements activities is possible.”

        If so, then it backs up what I say. Why would you make a public demand for something you didn’t think was possible?The administration handled it very clumsily.

        For your consideration: It would have been better to pressure Netanyahu to commit to freeze the expansion of the settlement footprint, which he has now done in any case (along with a committment to a temporary freeze after these latest housing starts which had already been approved), and spin that as a success. The same result now is being viewed as an abject failure and looks to undermine the leader of the more moderate Palestinian faction.

        And all of this ignores the biggest obstacle to any agreement now. It isn’t Netanyahu or the settlements, it is the fact that Israel can’t make a deal with half of the Palestinians. That (edit: a reunification deal) is a precursor condition without which no deal is possible. Hamas appears completely unwilling to make a deal, and even if they did, I don’t see them ever agreeing to an end of conflict deal. The most I see from them is a long term hudna, without relinquishing any of their claims.

  4. janbekster said, on November 8, 2009 at 5:41 pm

    Actually my point Mr.David, is that there was no pressure envisaged in the first place, on Israel. But, I tend to agree with you that President Obama’s startegy is not only clumsy, but actually wrong, unless, we put the elements together in order to figure out, if really, the situation is so rediculous that even an amateur like yours sincerely, would not do such obvious mistakes.

    I am not very bright in politics, to have certitudes, so please bare with me putting the available elements together, so that we can chart a path to understand the situation. First : President Obama says all the things which the Arabs want to hear, so that they can push Mr. Abbas to talk to the Israeli government. However, is it possible that the seasoned politicians of the Arab world, are so naive to expect that, once President Obama says those magic words, the Israeli government will start begging to be allowed to freeze their settlements policies?.
    Well they are not, and the majority of them are survivors of conspiracies, which will make any conpiracy elswhere, seem like a picnic.

    Second: Is it possible that the Arab leaders did not know that, the US will not be able to pressurise Israel on the settlements, and had no prior knowledge of it, especially, since most the Arab leaders involved in the peace process have met President Obama recently?. If a lesser mortal like your sincerely knew from some time ago, that the dominant thought in the Washington administration, is that a 100% freeze on the settlements activities is impossible {again, Prof.Lynch has the contacts}, is it concievable that the Arab leaders and Mr. Abbas had no prior knowledge of that?. Highly unlikely if not downright impossible.

    Third : Mr. Abbas, withdrew the Goldstone Report the first time round, because Bibi threatened that he would not go back to the negotiations; and it is rumoured according to US request and with the support of some Arab countries. Is this the action of a man whom doesn’t want to negotiate?.

    Four: Mr. Abbas suddenly declares his retirement from politics.

    Fifth : None of the Arab leaders whom have met president Obama didn’t say that they will help him in the peace process.

    Putting those elements together, I think I can only conclude, that the Arab world, or at least, the one allied to the USA, still wants Mr. Abbas to talk to Bibi even without pre-conditions, and Mr. Abbas wants also to do that, but needs a whole international, regional as well as Palestinian support from his own constituency in order to negotiate with Bibi without any pre-conditions.

    If this is not the case and I am terribly wrong, then my only fault, would be trying to make sense of President Obama’s Middle East strategy, a prerogative of a man with very little to do.

    khairi janbek.paris/france

    • David in DC said, on November 8, 2009 at 5:41 pm

      I disagreed with your main point. I think Obama did envisage pressure on Israel, but just not to the point where you, janbekster, consider it pressure (eg, cutting off funds, which I think is quite unrealistic to expect). His pressure was aimed more at Netanyahu, and in the past these kinds of machinations targeted at a specific PM have worked, but Obama miscalculated. His adminstration also didn’t think through all of the potential outcomes of this strategy, and so was caught flat footed when, surprise, Obama’s charm didn’t turn the Israelis against Netanyahu.

      Addressing your points:

      1) You are right, the Arabs are not so naive. They must have realized they must bring something to the table also. Yet the Arabs also rebuffed Obama, giving Netanyahu no cover even assuming he wanted to freeze settlements.

      2) I don’t know what the Arab leaders thought or what the administration thought. It’s just guesses and I would assign some probability that the Arabs thought that Obama would apply more pressure.

      3) It’s the actions of a man who knows he is already on thin ice with the US President (for refusing to negotiate without pre-conditions and making Obama look bad at a time when he has more than enough on his plate at home) and getting pressured in it. Someone who wanted to negotiate would…negotiate.

      4) The Brett Favre of Palestinian politics. Maybe this time it’s for real, but let’s check in on Abbas in six months.

      5) Based on the actions I have seen, I disagree. They have already rebuffed him on the important stuff. If they want to help now, they could start calling for Abbas to talk to the Israelis, but I don’t see them doing that either. The most important job any of them is doing is Egypt with the reconciliation talks, but this is as much self interest as anything.

      Regarding your conclusion, which doesn’t necessarily flow from your points, I could believe that Abbas wants to negotiate without preconditions but overplayed his hand and is now stuck (this is what I said, or alluded to, in my first post). To extricate himself he would need support from multiple directions. I agree that the Arab US allies, at least, would prefer to see pointless talk over more violence. I believe the other axis, including Iran, would prefer to see the situation continue to deteriorate.

      • janbekster said, on November 8, 2009 at 5:42 pm

        I must repeat, that my argument is an attempt to make sense of what seems to be, a senseless policy pursued by Presidnet Obama. Therefore, if this policy is to make sense, then its cardinal factor is, to get the Arabs to push Abu Mazen to negotiate without pre-conditions. As for myself, I think personally, Mr. Abbas should stick to his retirement, and in any case, the two-state solution has never been my favourite solution simply because I still believe it is a non-starter. But if the international community thinks otherwise, well, I accept. Now back to the points :

        1) There is no other pressure apart from the one which can bring tangible results, that can be pursued successfully or indeed even called pressure realitically, let alone words which do not even last long. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that pressure was envisaged from the beginning.

        2) Being not naive, the Arab leaders did expect that they have to deliver something to the table, that something is Mr. Abbas, but it would be contadiction in terms, had they been naive enough to think that President Obama would be delivering Bibi to the table. I mean, as Marc Lynch keeps saying, that the Arab people do not expect President Obama to be able to pressurise Bibi; though they wanted him to succeed, let alone their leaders to expect that he will. I don’t know who did the rebuffing, but what did Bibi do in comparison to the flying of the Israeli flag in Abu Dhabi for the first time ever, when an Israeli official delegation attended a conference there recently.

        3) Mr. Abbas did not introduce anything new to the negotiations, for he was following what is termed as “the Road Map”. It is Bibi whom actually changed the rules of the game. Despite that, Abu Mazen even withdrew the Goldstone Report the first time, because Bibi threatened to end all prospects of negotiations. It is said that he withdrew the report according to US request, and with the blessing of some Arab parties to keep the hope of future negotiations alive.

        4) Maybe or maybe not, but this would be the only last trump card to play for Abu Mazen, if he is to return to the negotiations without pre-conditions with the required support to do so.

        5) Every Arab leader whom met President Obama recently, went on record pledgeing assistance to his peace intitiative. In any case, pursuing the whole peace concept is essentially a serious Arab self-interest and not merely an ultruistic act to help the Palestinians. Isn’t it your good self whom said that there are sides whom are hoping that the situation deteriorates?. That alone by itself, is an urgent incentive to pursue the peace process by the so-called moderate Arabs.

        I believe I am consistent in my arguments and conclusions, but your good self is entitled to your opinion about them. After all this a public forum.
        khairi janbek.paris/france

  5. Zathras said, on November 8, 2009 at 5:42 pm

    The settlement freeze called for by President Obama is being blamed for the current stalemate mostly by people taking their cues from the Israeli government, which in turn is responding to the least reasonable factions in Israeli politics.

    Settlements on the West Bank of the Jordan River serve no American interest. They never have. Yet America is, with some cause, closely identified with them because of the very large amount of aid the American government sends to Israel for other reasons. Obama took a necessary first step to move his country out of this untenable position in Cairo, but any second step was always contingent on his not being intimidated by the domestic political repercussions of disappointing American supporters of Israel grown accustomed to having their own country’s interests defined by the Israeli government.

    I’m afraid the bottom line is that if Obama and his Secretary of State is so intimidated, we’re not going anywhere on the Middle East. More precisely, we’ll be left to react to events there, through our government’s inability to construct a policy of its own.

  6. msbahari said, on November 8, 2009 at 5:43 pm

    Personally I think he is just bluffing. He did it before and now he is doing it again. The real concerns of his resignation is the propaganda by Hamas that Talks with Israel is a waste of time and this will make Fatah more weaker.
    As Lynch said it is not a disaster and may pave the way for more young and less corrupted leadership for the PALs.

  7. bb said, on November 8, 2009 at 5:43 pm

    “I don’t have much to add to what I wrote last week, before people started paying attention: if he’s serious, then it isn’t necessarily a disaster. It could shake up a failing process on autopilot, it could offer the chance to finally renew Palestinian leadership, and it could offer a way for the Gaza-West Bank, Fatah-Hamas standoff to be defused. Nothing has changed in the last week to make me change my mind on those basic points.”

    ????? This move by Abbas is a direct result of Obama having stated publicly in his Cairo speech that the United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements and it was time for the settlements to stop.

    In other words, your President raised expectations throughout the arab world and then was seen very quickly to be incapable of seeing the issue through!

    To add insult to injury Obama then strong armed Abbas into a photo op with Netanyahu and delivered the final backstab by strong arming him into agreeing to shelve the Goldstone Report. Deeply, deeply pathetic performance.

    It is salutary to also recall that in the Cairo speech Obama made much of the Afghanistan war being a necessary war and made his famous reach out to the Islamic Republic of Iran.

    For the latter, the totalitarian nature of the regime quickly revealed itself in response to Obama’s “reach out” and we are being treated to the spectacle of him being given the same run around by the regime that the Bush Admin had to manage. As for the former, Obama trumpeted a strategy for his “necessary” war back in March and is now walking away from both it and the very General he himself appointed to execute the strategy.

    I’d like to know which other presidents have presided over so many major stuff ups and miscalculations on the foreign policy front in their first year of office? Can any commenters here give examples?

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