Palestine: Abbas to not stand again as way forward questioned

November 13, 2009

President of the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority (PA), Mahmoud Abbas, said on November 5 that he would not run in the presidential election scheduled for January 24.

Abbas has been the United States and Israel's favoured negotiations partner. Since the Oslo accords between the Palestinian Liberation Organisation and Israel in 1993, Abbas has been a key Palestinian negotiator pushing for a two-state solution to the Palestinian struggle.

Under a two-state solution, Palestinians would accept a statelet based on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, divided from each other and cut up by growing Israeli-settlements and Jewish-only roads.

Until Oslo, the demand of the Palestinian movement was for one state over historic Palestine in which all citizens, regardless of race or religion, could live in equality.

A two-state solution would leave almost 80% of historic Palestine as the exclusive territory of the Jewish state of Israel, which was formed in 1948 after the expulsion of 800,000 Palestinians from their lands.

The West Bank and Gaza were invaded and occupied by Israel in 1967.

The US-backed Abbas's party, Fatah, in a 2007 coup over the Hamas led-unity government. Hamas had won the 2006 Palestinian Legislative Assembly elections. The coup was successful in the West Bank, but the elected Hamas-led government held on to power in Gaza.

The US labels Hamas as a terrorist organisation and an unsuitable partner for negotiations.
Abbas's willingness to act as a US-favoured proxy, combined with Israel's refusal to grant any concessions to Palestinian negotiators at all while seizing more land in the West Bank for illegal settlements, has discredited Abbas. He no longer has the trust of Palestinians.

In what may have been the final straw, the US has now insisted Palestinians should negotiate with Israel without pre-conditions. This comes as US calls for Israel to stop its illegal settlement building in East Jerusalem have been ignored.

Abbas told Al Jazeera on November 6: "We've pledged with Israel to reach a two-state solution, but month after month we've seen nothing but complacency and procrastination."

The future of Fatah and the PA has been thrown into question. The most popular Fatah leadership contender, Marwan Barghouti, is currently serving six life sentences as a political prisoner in Israel.

Negotiations since Oslo have not advanced the situation for Palestinians. The first Palestinian intifada (uprising), begun in 1987, led to the September 1993 Oslo Accords, which called for mutual recognition of Israel and the PLO.

Since Oslo, Israel has demanded that any "independent" Palestinian state be demilitarised and continue to exist under the watchful eye of Israeli security forces.

Shlomo Ben-Ami, Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak's chief negotiator at the Camp David summit in 2000, described the Oslo process as "in practice … founded on a neo-colonialist basis, on a life of dependence of one on the other forever".

The Oslo Accords greatest achievement was the creation of the PA, a form of limited self-government for the Palestinian people. But even within its limited mandate, Israel has refused to allow it to exercise its free will.

Israel continues to exercise a veto over PA decisions.

Oslo set the framework for all following negotiations. Even the 2005 dismantling of illegal Israeli settlements in Gaza were used to strengthen Israel's more populous settlements in the West Bank and to impose a near total siege on Gaza — which continues today.

The PA was seen by Israel as the means for a section of the Palestinian leadership to police their own people on Israel's behalf. It was seen by Israel as a way to continue to exert control over the territories it occupied in 1967 at minimal economic and political costs.

Veteran left-wing Israeli journalist Amira Hass said in an October 5 Haaretz article: "The chronic submissiveness [of Palestinian leaders] is always explained by a desire to 'make progress'.

"But for the PLO and Fatah, progress is the very continued existence of the Palestinian Authority, which is now functioning more than ever before as a subcontractor for the IDF [Israeli Defence Forces], the Shin Bet security service and the [Israeli] Civil Administration.

"This is a leadership that believes in negotiation as a strategic path to obtaining a state and integration in the world that the United States is shaping.

"But in such a world there is personal gain that accrues from chronic submissiveness — benefits enjoyed by the leaders and their immediate circles.

"This personal gain shapes the tactics."

The failed tactic of lopsided negotiations that accepted ongoing Israeli domination was challenged by the second Palestinian intifada, which broke out in 2000.

It was also the context for the January 2006 Palestinian Legislative Assembly elections won by Hamas, a group that rejected the logic of Oslo and argued for continued armed resistance. Hamas were also viewed as anti-corruption, in contrast to the corrupt practices of many Fatah leaders.

During the December-January Israeli war on Gaza, the Fatah-aligned West Bank-based PA minister of social affairs, Mahmoud Habbash, angered many Palestinians by publicly blaming Hamas for provoking Israel into its murderous onslaught.

Fatah even initially called for a delay in the delivery of the United Nations' Goldstone report into war crimes committed during Israel's war on Gaza, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly on November 4, in line with US and Israeli demands.

In response, rumours have been rife that a new intifada isbrewing among Palestinians in the West Bank.

The most recent peace negotiations only confirmed what has been clear since Oslo: Israel is unwilling to negotiate, despite great concessions from the Palestinian side.

Today, more than 500,000 Israeli settlers live in walled-in communities within the West Bank. This has ruled out any serious possibility for a functioning, independent Palestinian state.

Hass said: "The true choice [for Palestinians] is between negotiations as part of a popular struggle anchored in the language of the universal culture of equality and rights, and negotiations between business partners with the junior partner submissively expressing his gratitude to the senior partner for his generosity."

Ordinary Palestinians are increasingly rejecting the second option.

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