Thursday, October 15, 2009

Mahmoud Abbas as Peace Partner? Dictators vs. "The Street".

by Khaled Abu Toameh

The US Administration has resumed its efforts to bring Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table. US special Middle East envoy George Mitchell is back in the region in yet another bid to persuade the two parties to revive the peace process.

But the question that needs to be asked these days is: Is there really a strong, credible and reliable partner on the Palestinian side for any deal? Or, in simple terms, can Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian deliver?

The answer obviously is no.

Even if Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Abbas were to sign a peace agreement tomorrow morning, it is highly unlikely that the Palestinian president would be able to sell it to his people.

Abbas's credibility has been severely damaged as a result of the manner in which he handled a resolution that was supposed to be brought before the UN Human Rights Council regarding the findings of the Richard Goldstone report into Operation Cast Lead.

Palestinians were hoping that the resolution, which accuses both Israel and Hamas of committing war crimes during the war, would be endorsed by the Council.

Abbas, however, shocked many Palestinians by ordering his representative at the UN, Ibrahim Khraishi, to set aside the resolution.

Abbas has since been facing an unprecedented wave of denunciations and allegations of high treason from many Palestinians and Arabs. Even some of his loyalists are now calling for his resignation on the pretext that he cannot be trusted to negotiate peace with Israel on behalf of the Palestinians.

The street protests that erupted in the Palestinian territories and Arab capitals following Abbas's controversial decision serve as a reminder of the wide gap that has always existed between Arab dictators and their constituents.

The protests also serve as a reminder that the Arab masses are more interested in punishing Israel than making peace with the Jewish state.

Abbas is under attack because, in the eyes of many Palestinians and Arabs, he "helped Israel bury its war crimes" in the Gaza Strip. In mosques in different parts of the Arab world, he has been condemned for "exonerating the Jews" and "betraying the blood of the Palestinian martyrs" killed in the war.

Abbas has offered a number of explanations for his decision to set aside the Goldstone report - explanations which have only caused further damage to his credibility.

First his aides and he claimed that the decision was taken under US pressure and threats. Then they argued that the decision was taken at the request of a number of Arab and Islamic countries. When these two explanations did not calm the Palestinian and Arab streets, Abbas ordered the establishment of a three-man commission of inquiry to look into the circumstances that prompted him to set aside the resolution.

This last move - the formation of a commission of inquiry - has been received with laughter by Abbas's critics. As a Palestinian minister put it, "In the beginning I thought it was a joke when I heard that the president had established a commission of inquiry to investigate himself. How can anyone take him seriously from now on?"

Well, it seems that there are still many who do take Abbas seriously, especially in Washington and some European capitals. Abbas's more recent decision to revive the debate over the Goldstone report by bringing it back to the UN Human Rights Council is seen as a pathetic attempt to save what's left of his credibility. So is his decision to send Palestinian policemen in civilian clothes to the streets of West Bank cities to demonstrate in favor of their embattled president.

Abbas cannot be a partner to any deal: his image and credibility have been severely tarnished. Any agreement he reaches with Israel will be received with suspicion by a majority of Palestinians and Arabs.

Hamas, on the other hand, is not a partner because the movement is not going to change its radical ideology, at least not in the foreseeable future.

All that one can do now is to wait until a new, third-way party emerges in the Palestinian territories. Sadly, that option also does not seem to be realistic at this stage -- especially not when both Abbas and Hamas have a common interest in suppressing the emergence of new leaders.

Khaled Abu Toameh, an Arab Muslim, is a veteran award-winning journalist who has been covering Palestinian affairs for nearly three decades. He studied at Hebrew University and began his career as a reporter by working for a PLO-affiliated newspaper in Jerusalem. Abu Toameh currently works for the international media, serving as the "eyes and ears" of foreign journalists in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.



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