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MIDDLE EAST/ Abbas’ resignation would raise serious concerns for both Palestine and Israel

November Fri 20, 2009

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To resign or not to resign that is the question. At least it appears to be for the president of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas. Last week he gave indications through several close aids that he was considering resigning his position as president of Palestinian Authority in advance of the elections scheduled for January of next year. Even if he does not resign, Abbas has threatened not to stand for re-election as president of the Palestinian Authority in January. Besides, Abbas is known as something of a Hamlet, his stock-in-trade being ambivalence toward leading a fractured Palestine toward statehood. The new wrinkle in this latest threat is that several top Palestinian cabinet officials are also hinting that are also considering resignation, stepping down without replacements being named. The stated reason for these threats is collective frustration with the lack of progress made in negotiations with Israel aimed at creating an independent Palestinian state.

 

The concern such a mass resignation raises is whether the election would take place as planned, thus casting doubt over the future of Palestine, especially the West Bank, and raising serious concerns about Israeli security. Because this is a ploy that has been used before, the most recent threats have something of a hollow ring to them, nothing more than top officials engaging in hyperbole. Some statements have gone as far as questioning the need for the Palestinian Authority if there is no state immediately in the offing. The good news is that there is a sincere commitment on both the part the United States and Israel to create an independent Palestinian state. However, such a nation will not come into existence without resolving many vexing problems.

 

The failure to make progress towards the creation of a Palestinian state can be laid, at least in the first instance, at Abbas’ feet. His ineffective leadership is as much to blame as any other factor or party. His recent flip-flop on the Goldstone Report is indicative of his unsteady hand. When the report was first issued, he was among those who did not push for its approval by various United Nations bodies, thus implicitly supporting Israel’s right to self-defense in the wake of indiscriminate Hamas rocket attacks on Israel. Inexplicably, he changed course and began calling for what Jerusalem Post editor David Horovitz called “the Goldstone-facilitated international prosecution of Israel.” This recent series of events brings up the ever-present elephant-in-the-room: Hamas-controlled Gaza.

 

Prior to the creation of an independent Palestinian state, the Gaza Strip must be brought back under the governance of the Palestinian Authority. This is a point worth making over and over until it is understood and until decisive action is taken to bring about this necessary end. Gaza needs to be liberated from the rule of Hamas so that the Palestinian agreement formally made in the Oslo Accords and signed with great ceremony in Washington, D.C. in 1993, to recognize and respect the right of Israel to exist is credible. To date, Hamas has steadfastly refused to recognize Israel or renounce violence against the Jewish state, which most often takes the form of suicide bombings and indiscriminate rocket attacks launched from northern Gaza, the very territory from which Israel unilaterally withdrew in back in 2005.

 

This is precisely where the leadership of Abbas has failed catastrophically: allowing Hamas to rule Gaza independently since 2007. Without doubt, the Palestinian Authority requires the help of other Arab nations, especially Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, and Syria in wresting control of Gaza from Hamas. The preferred way to accomplish this is through diplomatic means. Hence, a settlement that does not disband Hamas, but that successfully convinces them to recognize the right of Israel to exist, to renounce violence against Israel, and to participate as a political party in January’s democratic elections would be a great success. Without such a breakthrough, the likelihood of making any real progress towards the realization of a Palestinian state remains dim.

 

Complicating all of this is the recent flap kicked up by Israel’s plans to construct 900 new housing units in the Gilo neighborhood of Jerusalem. Since taking over East Jerusalem in the 1967 war, Israel has claimed Jerusalem as its undivided capital. Obama, during last year’s presidential campaign, stated that “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.” If this is true, then why protest this action, especially when the U.S. State Department does not oppose it? State insists that the Jerusalem development is not a violation of Israeli agreements not to expand settlements while at the same time lauding the Netanyahu cabinet for strictly adhering to previous agreements, meanwhile, over at the White House, the press office, siding with the Palestinians, calls for a stop to the planned settlement. This kind of incoherence, which is becoming a hallmark of the Obama Administration, has to come to a stop, especially when it comes to this particularly delicate situation.

 

Turning again to Mr. Horovitz, it is perhaps all too true that the only political accomplishments of the Abbas Administration are turning the Israeli people decisively toward Prime Minister Netanyahu, “helping him solidify his support across party lines, and destroying President Obama's credibility with the Israeli public.” By resigning, Abbas and other Palestinian leaders would likely deal a death blow to any short term hope of a Palestinian state and perhaps plunge the West Bank into the kind of chaos currently experienced along the Gaza Strip, thus re-igniting violence between Israelis and Palestinians, possibly resulting in Israeli re-occupying Palestinian territory. When all of this is coupled with Palestinian rejection of many Israeli-proposed settlements, like returning to pre-1967 borders, it is little wonder that many continue misquoting Israeli diplomat Abba Eban to the effect that “Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” Then again, Eban actually said, “History teaches us that men and nations behave wisely once they have exhausted all other alternatives.” Sadly, I am not sure that Hamas and other radical Palestinian factions are convinced that all alternatives have been exhausted.

 

Deacon Scott Dodge



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