Abbas decides to go it alone
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Abbas decides to go it alone

The PA president has effectively closed the door on negotiations with Israel, but Hamas has little cause to rejoice

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, left, arrives for the opening of a museum for late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Sunday, November 9, 2014 (photo credit: AP/Abbas Momani)
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, left, arrives for the opening of a museum for late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Sunday, November 9, 2014 (photo credit: AP/Abbas Momani)

Fed up with what he views as American procrastination, Israeli intransigence, and Hamas duplicity, Mahmoud Abbas has decided to go it alone.

The PA president stood before members of the Arab League in Cairo on Saturday to deliver a seminal speech of disillusionment. He outlined his plan for a series of unilateral moves in the coming weeks: joining international treaties; applying the precepts of the Fourth Geneva Convention to the Palestinian territories, purportedly banning settlement activity under international laws of occupation; acquiring a UN Security Council resolution recognizing “Palestine” on the 1967 borders and prescribing a timetable for Israel’s withdrawal; and, finally, asking UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for a “comprehensive vision on the international protection of the Palestinian people.”

In a dramatic shift in policy, Abbas said he would “define relations with Israel, including stopping security coordination,” coordination he dubbed “sacred” in May and said he would uphold regardless of the outcome of negotiations. He then asked the Arab states for both political support and financial backing for his scheme, in the form of $100 million.

“I understand the repercussions of our plan, but I assure you that the most dangerous thing facing the Palestinian national cause is maintaining the status quo,” Abbas said, in perhaps his most lucid description of the diplomatic chasm separating him and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “I’ve given President [Barack] Obama and [Secretary of State John] Kerry every possible chance, and waited patiently, to a point where people began to wonder, ‘Waiting and waiting until when?'”

US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the latter's residence in Amman on November 13, 2014 (Photo credit: AFP/POOL/Nicholas Kamm)
US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the latter’s residence in Amman on November 13, 2014 (Photo credit: AFP/POOL/Nicholas Kamm)

In his speech, Abbas cited no fewer than five conversations with Kerry since early September — either directly or through delegates — in which he said he had indicated his intention to move forward in the international arena. He said that Kerry repeatedly warned him against doing so.

During their last meeting in Amman on November 13, Abbas said, he placed an ultimatum on the table: If Israel recognized Palestine on the 1967 borders, stopped settlement construction, released the fourth group of pre-Oslo prisoners from jail, and reinstated area A as fully sovereign Palestinian territory (currently, the IDF carries out security missions in Palestinian cities on a daily basis), negotiations could resume. Otherwise, Abbas said, he would immediately turn to the Security Council and join a series of international treaties. The deadline for Israel’s response was set for Saturday, the date of the Arab League gathering.

Palestinians are headed for the Security Council, with or without America’s blessing, Abbas asserted in his speech. The US, like other Western states, is welcome to participate in drafting the UN Security Council appeal, he stressed. “We do not want to exclude anyone, and don’t want anyone outside the fold, especially not the US,” he said.

“We can wait no longer; the status quo is untenable,” he added.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at Netanyahu's residence in Jerusalem, September 15, 2010 (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem, September 15, 2010 (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

“We no longer have a partner in Israel, and have no choice but to internationalize the Palestinian issue through the plan we’ve agreed upon,” Abbas said, fully articulating for the first time his exasperation with Israel and with the ineffective American mediation. “I am confident that we will win your support, and I request … a safety net of $100 million, which we’ve discussed before, in order to strengthen the steadfastness of our people on the land of the occupied Palestinian state in the West Bank, Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.”

Meanwhile, on the Palestinian unity front

Abbas spent more time in his speech dissecting the proposed “Jewish state” law than addressing the deepening political crisis with Hamas, which reached a boiling point this week.

But in an interview with Egyptian TV channel Al-Kahira Wal Nas Saturday, Abbas accused Hamas of reaching “secret” agreements and understandings with Israel. He said that Hamas had accepted a “despicable” Israeli idea that he had adamantly rejected in 2003 — that of a Palestinian state on provisional borders.

“I challenge Hamas to say they didn’t agree. They did. What does this mean? It means they gave something to the Israelis that I refused to give. It is possible that if negotiations took place with Hamas, they would be more lenient than me,” Abbas said.

Hamas angrily rejected Abbas’s claims.

“Hamas has never negotiated with the Zionist enemy and the movement has no secret agenda as happened in Oslo,” wrote Cairo-based Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk. “We do not deceive our people with false slogans. The movement’s positions and official statements necessarily represent our people’s interests. This is our vow to the people, and we will never compromise with our enemy.”

(From L to R) Palestinian Fatah delegation chief Azzam al-Ahmad, Hamas prime minister in the Gaza Strip Ismail Haniyeh and Hamas deputy leader Moussa Abu Marzouk pose for a photo as they celebrate in Gaza City on April 23, 2014, after West Bank and Gaza Strip leaders agreed to form a unity government within five weeks. (photo credit: AFP/Said Khatib)
(From L to R) Palestinian Fatah delegation chief Azzam al-Ahmad, Hamas prime minister in the Gaza Strip Ismail Haniyeh and Hamas deputy leader Moussa Abu Marzouk pose for a photo as they celebrate in Gaza City on April 23, 2014, after West Bank and Gaza Strip leaders agreed to form a unity government within five weeks. (photo credit: AFP/Said Khatib)

Another Hamas official, Khalil Al-Hayya, accused Abbas and his Fatah party of procrastinating on national elections, calling them “the most important article of the reconciliation deal.”

The unity deal reached between Hamas and Fatah in June stipulated national presidential and parliamentary elections within 6 months, or by the end of 2014.

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