by Khaled Abu Toameh
Many Palestinians are finding it increasingly difficult to understand what Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas really wants. Some say they are even confused because of Abbas's contradictory messages to the Palestinians and the rest of the world.
On the one hand, Abbas has been telling the Palestinians that he has no intention to run for another term. On the other hand, some of his aides and advisors are now saying that Abbas is Fatah's only candidate for president in the next election, slated for next May.
Abbas used to say that he would never strike a reconciliation deal with Hamas unless the Islamist movement ceded control over the Gaza Strip. But in recent months Abbas has been talking to Hamas about reconciliation and unity with Hamas, whose forces staged a violent coup against Fatah in the Gaza Strip in 2007.
Abbas says he has reached understandings with Hamas to "open a new page" in relations between the two parties and end divisions in the Palestinian arena. But despite the talk about reconciliation and unity, Abbas's security forces in the West Bank continue to detain Hamas supporters and activists.
Abbas has repeatedly affirmed his strong opposition to a third intifada against Israel. But this has not stopped him and many of his senior officials from urging Palestinians to prepare for a "popular intifada" against Israel - an uprising similar to the one that erupted in 1987 where Palestinians mostly resorted to throwing stones and firebombs at Israeli soldiers and settlers. In other words, Abbas wants an intifada only against soldiers and settlers because he believes that suicide bombings inside Israel have caused huge damage to the Palestinians.
Earlier this week, Abbas further confused Palestinians when he agreed to direct talks in Jordan between Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and Israeli envoy Yitzhak Molcho under the auspices of the Jordanian monarch and Quartet members - the US, EU, UN and Russia. Until last week, Abbas had been telling the Palestinians that he would never return to direct negotiations with Israel unless the Israeli government froze all construction in the settlements and east Jerusalem and accepted the pre-1967 lines as the basis for a two-state solution.
Abbas's repeated threats to dismantle the Palestinian Authority have further confused the Palestinians. Until recently, Abbas's position was that if the UN Security Council does not approve his application for full membership in the international body, he would either resign or dissolve the Palestinian Authority. His hope was that such a move would seriously embarrass Israel and force it to replace the Palestinian Authority in managing the day-to-day affairs of the Palestinians.
Likewise, many Palestinians are confused about Abbas's real stance on core issues such as the idea of land swaps with Israel and the problem of the refugees. In the past, the Palestinian president was quoted as expressing his opposition to land swaps in a final deal with Israel.
Now, however, some of his negotiators are saying that they don't rule out the idea. And while he has declared that the "right of return" for Palestinian refugees is a "sacred" matter for Palestinians, some of his negotiators have indicated readiness to make far-reaching compromises not only on the issue of the refugees, but also with regards to the future of Jerusalem. Documents leaked by Wikileaks last year provided evidence that Abbas was prepared to make serious concessions to Israel in sharp contrast to his public statements and positions.
Abbas's conflicting messages are one of the main reasons why many Palestinians no longer take him or the Palestinian Authority seriously. Why should Israel or the West take him seriously if his only people find it hard to believe him?
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