Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Abbas Must Stand
By His Decision
By Lamis Andoni
Most pundits have dismissed the announcement by Mahmoud Abbas that he will not seek re-election as the president of the Palestinian Authority (PA) as a tactical move.
But Abbas has, so far, dodged pressures to back down, informing the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Fatah leaderships that his decision is final.
For the sake of the Palestinians and for the sake of a just peace, Abbas should not budge.
The man who believed the most among Palestinians in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, should step down even if elections, due to be held in January, are postponed.
This is not about Abbas' credibility but about his responsibility.
Drawing a line
As the co-architect of the Oslo process, Abbas should signal to Washington and Tel Aviv that there is no Palestinian - "whether moderate or extremist" - who could continue in negotiations that have only served to deflect attention from continued Israeli territorial expansion and the dispossession of the Palestinians.
Abbas' realisation that the American-brokered 'peace process' is not going to lead to an independent state is late. After all, the Oslo process has enabled consecutive Israeli governments to double their settlement construction - under the guise of commitment to the 'peace process'.
However, it is not too late to draw a line in the sand.
It is true that the negotiation process has provided cover for Israel to expand its colonies in the Occupied Territories and escalate its attacks against the Palestinians. But the process, as flawed as it is, has not legitimated the occupation or the Jewish settlements, let alone Israel's illegal annexation of East Jerusalem.
The Oslo process has also provided ample time for Israel to consolidate its control over the Palestinian territories - reducing the vision of a Palestinian state into a reality of fragmented and powerless enclaves.
But it is not too late for Abbas to make an historic move that could signal to the world that Palestinians are serious about refusing the American-Israeli imposed rules of the game and are struggling for their liberation - and not for a fake 'partnership' with their jailers.
He can only make such a move if he sticks to his decision and steps down in January.
PLO officials, who have been in touch with Abbas, say that he has not been dissuaded and is also considering resigning the leadership of both the PLO and Fatah.
But it is his stepping down from the PA that is, for now, the real test of his seriousness.
The Americans have already blatantly ignored Palestinian demands for a halt to Israeli settlement construction and implied that they could deal with a new Palestinian leader.
This American arrogance is based on a presumption that they could find a more malleable leader. But Abbas' resignation would make it more difficult for any successor to accept what the architect of Oslo - who has the backing of Fatah and the PLO - refused.
It is ironic that this is happening under a US administration led by Barack Obama, the supposed advocate of a more even-handed US approach to Israeli-Arab 'peace-making'.
But it was precisely Abbas' disappointment - if not shock - in Obama's pandering to the Israeli government that proved to be the last straw for perhaps the only Palestinian optimist in prospects for Israeli-Arab peace.
Abbas defied both the PLO executive committee and his Fatah movement by agreeing to trilateral talks with Obama and Benyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, in September.
The justification Abbas provided for attending was that he did not want to offer the Americans an opportunity to blame the Palestinians for the failure of negotiations.
The PLO and the Fatah leadership made it clear to Abbas that he did not have a mandate to resume negotiations if the Israelis did not agree to halt settlement construction and if a clearly defined framework for negotiations, based on UN resolutions and international law, was not in place.
But that meeting proved beyond any doubt that Obama has totally bought into the argument that Israeli settlement building should be evaluated according to Israel's self-declared 'security interests'.
When Abbas bowed to intense pressure - mostly from the US, but also from some Arab governments - to support the postponement of a discussion on the Goldstone report in the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR), he was left isolated.
Almost immediately, the PLO and Fatah - joined by almost all the other ministers in the PA - demanded a reversal of the decision.
Abbas said that his decision came after representatives from most Arab governments, along with China and Russia, urged postponement, fearing that any decision would fail to pass at that time.
While most PLO and Fatah leaders believed Abbas, they held him - as the person who is supposed to represent the rights of the Palestinians - rather than other Arab governments, accountable for the ultimate decision.
But the PLO and Fatah leaderships continued to support him, especially after the UNHRC and the UN General Assembly endorsed the Goldstone report and referred it to the Security Council for discussion.
'Collaborating with Israel'
However, in the furor that followed that decision, Abbas was even accused of "collaborating with Israel" to ensure the facilitation of the work of a new mobile phone company that was supposedly "owned by his son".
These claims, which were initiated by Israeli press reports, were quickly endorsed by several Palestinian academics and writers as fact - thus implying that Abbas was "shielding Israel from accountability for its crimes in return for enriching his family".
The story was given more credence when Richard Falk, the UN Human Rights Council monitor for the Palestinian territories, repeated the allegations.
It soon emerged that the mobile phone company in question is largely owned by a Gulf company that controls 57 per cent of its shares and the public Palestinian Investment company.
Falk, who scathingly attacked Abbas for supporting the delay of a discussion on the Goldstone report, publicly apologised on Al Jazeera Arabic's From Washington programme for repeating this false information.
But while writers, largely motivated by their opposition to Abbas, failed to check their facts, this episode revealed just how little credibility the Palestinian president has left.
The final blow
The last blow, however, came when Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, informed Abbas, that Washington wanted not only an immediate resumption of negotiations without a freeze on Israeli settlement building, but that East Jerusalem would be excluded from any discussion on settlement expansion.
A member of the Fatah central committee told this writer that Clinton informed Abbas that nine Arab governments had assured her of their acceptance of the US position on dropping the settlement freeze as a precondition for the resumption of negotiations.
"That was it for Abbas, who felt betrayed by Arab governments who agree with Washington and then accuse him directly or indirectly of selling out Palestinian rights," the Fatah official said.
In the end - even though Abbas' account is plausible - it was and remains his responsibility, first and foremost, to safeguard Palestinian rights.
Thus by stepping down, Abbas is admitting the failure of the 'peace process' and withdrawing Palestinian cover for Israel's continued occupation.
As many analysts - both supporters and opponents of Abbas - agree, the veteran Fatah leader has a chance to make an honorable exit.
But more importantly, and urgently, he has a duty to expose the American-Israeli scam to push the Palestinians to surrender in the name of 'peace'.
Abbas should not budge on this. It is a matter of assuming responsibility.
Lamis Andoni is an analyst and commentator on Middle Eastern and Palestinian affairs. She has been writing about the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) for the past 20 years and has interviewed all of the key leaders of the movement.
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