Difficult Days for Abbas

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Mohammad Khajouei
Middle East Studies Expert

Active ImageOnly a few days after controversial announcement of elections for president of the Palestinian Authority and parliament on 24 January 2010 and while many observers maintained that Mahmoud Abbas had the best chance to win that election, it was announced last Thursday that he had no plan to take part in the election.

Abu Mazen has made this decision at a time that the Middle East peace process is surrounded by ambiguities after US officials announced that halting construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem cannot be a precondition for starting peace talks. One ambiguity is whether Abu Mazen is serious in his decision or is just trying to put more pressure on the United States in order to include settlements in the agenda of peace talks?

Putting all his hope in Obama, Abu Mazen expected Obama to get Benjamin Netanyahu stop unilateral Israeli policies in building settlements when he was withstanding the pressure from other Palestinian groups, including Hamas, which charged him with ignoring the rights of Palestinians, thus preventing him to feel ashamed in the face of the Palestinian people.

However, it is clear that the United States is bewildered in its efforts to solve the crisis in the Middle East and the country which is setting the rules of the game is not the United States, but Israel. The changing tone of the American politicians with regard to the issue of Jewish settlements clearly indicates passivity of the Americans toward Israel’s unilateral policies.

Under these circumstances, Abbas is feeling more isolated than before. Of course, both the Americans and Israelis still consider Abu Mazen as the best choice for the leadership of the Palestinian Authority and it seems improbable that they would let him to quit the scene.

Although it is possible that Abu Mazen will quit as leader of the Palestinian Authority to take charge of the Palestine Liberation Organization where his influence will linger through empowerment of the organization, there is a more powerful chance that he would stay as the president of the Palestinian Authority.

Active ImageThe point which backs that possibility is that Mahmoud Abbas has not clearly said in which election and when he would not run for president; the election which is scheduled for January or the next one which is to be held next June on the basis of the national reconciliation plan which was formulated in Egypt? On the other hand, the election may be indefinitely postponed leaving Abbas in power for a protracted period of time.

Let’s not forget that January 2010 is the legal date for the election and if the election is not held and the Palestinian parliament is not convinced about the reason for adjourning the election, there would be a legal void. The Palestinian parliament is currently experiencing special conditions and most of its deputies are held at the Israeli prisons. Therefore, they are not able to gather in a single place to hold an effective session and this has added to the complicated conditions. Also, fruitlessness of national reconciliation meetings between Hamas and Fatah has further complicated the situation.

It seems that all factors are at work to change the state of the affairs in such a way as to postpone the election. However, Abbas is trying to pose as a person who is both dissatisfied with the peace talks and is not willing to remain in power.

Regardless of the final scenario, the important point is that Abbas is trying to take positions in order to reduce the existing criticism which is focused on inefficiency of Abbas and the Palestinian Authority in order to redefine his status within and without that system.