Posts Tagged ‘Mahmoud Abbas’
We’ve heard that the appeal has been made in private before but, over the weekend, Mahmoud Abbas publicly requested that President Obama impose a solution to the Middle East conflict. This implies, of course, that he’ll ‘impose’ a Palestinian state on the Israeli people, and ‘impose’ concessions on behalf of the Palestinians also. While I can appreciate Abu Mazen’s frustrations, even he must understand this is impossible and stating it is also not doing Obama any favours.
The obvious implication of Abu Mazen having the boldness to make such a request is that he believes Obama is firmly on ‘his side’. In an increasingly polar, divided and confrontational political arena, this is more bad press for the President as it could further erode his base of support within Israel and the Jewish community as well as giving tea party activists and the like another bone to chew on. I don’t see any political benefit for Abu Mazen here either. What political ends could it possibly serve for him to once again confirm his total political impotence? Begging the President of the US to do the job for him against the Israelis does not build confidence in a leader.
No, I see this as a statement made purely out of desperation. Perhaps Abbas really thought that he would be the one to bring a Palestinian state? Perhaps he really thought he could finally step out of Arafat’s shadow and be the father of a new Palestine, a Palestinian Ben Gurion or something. But even Abbas must think twice, a state will not be achieved by begging. Politics respects the strong, not the weak.
Let’s take a quick look at the frustrating political stalemate that has brought this desperate situation about.
Of the main players:
- Abbas is looking inreasingly weak, impotent and useless. He has completely lost Gaza, there have been plenty of allegations about corruption and very few people among his own constitutents have any respect for him or hope under his leadership. He has been treated like a pawn by the Israelis time and time again, eclipsed even by Salam Fayyad’s proclamations of Palestinian statehood being just around the corner.
- Obama is presiding over an increasingly bitter and divided country. The watered-down health care reform bill that he passed may have been lauded in the papers as monumental but drew a huge toll in blood & sweat from the Democratic party and himself. His first term has been far from easy. Both Iraq and Afghanistan are still looking like losing battles, Israel-Palestine is spiralling out of control, his power base on the left thinks that he hasn’t gone far enough whereas the right is getting more and more hostile as the days wear on.
- Netanyahu, what can we say about poor old Bibi. It’s a testament to the man’s political canniness that he has been able to hold his shaky coalition together for this long. The inordinate amount of power held by the far right in the Israeli Knesset has made it almost impossible for Netanyahu to make any real progress in any direction when it comes to Palestine. What the man actually wants to do is no longer even relevant, he is basically a middleman. Bibi is trying to strike a balance between increasing pressure from the international community in the wake of Cast Lead and from a far less friendly President in the White House on one side, and a powerful far right not willing to make any concessions on the other.
But more on Netanyahu. This piece from Hagai Segal for YNet further highlights the delicacy of the tight-rope that Bibi is walking. Segal highlights what we already knew, there is no actual construction going on in East Jerusalem, probably a part of the ‘gentleman’s agreement’ Bibi is said to have struck with Obama. Bombastic announcements of settlement expansion were made and we assumed they were to curry favour with the right, but is the right so stupid as to accept these announcements without bricks and mortar? Is the Israeli public going to keep buying the line that Bibi is running rings around Obama? Or is something going to give somewhere?
Meanwhile, Abu Mazen is still refusing to enter negotiations with Israel until they agree to a total settlement freeze in East Jerusalem. So while the settlement announcements served to hold the right-wing at bay for a time and the lack of construction is holding Obama at bay, Abu Mazen is refusing to accept it. The only political points Bibi can score at the moment is that the Palestinians are being belligerent about refusing to enter peace talks. He can’t even point out the lack of construction in East Jerusalem as a concession because it’s meant to be one that flies under the radar.
Where to from here?
The AFP reports that Abbas has been invited to Washington for direct talks with Obama. Ha’aretz is reporting that the stalled indirect ‘proximity’ talks are to start no later than mid-May, citing the perennial deus ex machina, unnamed officials. I’m inclined to believe this claim. I think Abbas is heading over to Washington for drilling. Obama is going to tell Abbas to back down on the request for a settlement freeze, to take heed of the lack of construction, to stop pushing Bibi because a collapsed coalition and a political vacuum in the Knesset would help no one (least of all Obama) and to enter ‘proximity’ talks.
The irony of the settlement situation is that, although settlement construction in East Jerusalem has stalled, none of the principal actors mentioned above can draw any political capital from it unless proximity talks begin. If proximity talks happen then that can be considered a limited victory for Obama & Mitchell, which is why they are presumably keen to see them start again in earnest.
Whether these talks will amount to anything is the million dollar question asked before every single round of talks, every single new ‘peace process’ or ‘road map’. I’m tempted to say no, but presumably Obama wants us to have ‘the audacity of hope’.
Haaretz has made public details about the supposed map of a proposal that Ehud Olmert offered Abu Mazen to delineate a prospective Palestinian state. Details of the map and proposal have always previously remained clandestine:
Together, the areas would have involved the transfer of 327 square kilometers of territory from within the Green Line.
Olmert presented his map to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in September of last year. Abbas did not respond, and negotiations ended. In an interview with Haaretz on Tuesday, Abbas said Olmert had presented several drafts of his map.
Olmert wanted to annex 6.3 percent of the West Bank to Israel, areas that are home to 75 percent of the Jewish population of the territories. His proposal would have also involved evacuation of dozens of settlements in the Jordan Valley, in the eastern Samarian hills and in the Hebron region. In return for the annexation to Israel of Ma’aleh Adumim, the Gush Etzion bloc of settlements, Ariel, Beit Aryeh and settlements adjacent to Jerusalem, Olmert proposed the transfer of territory to the Palestinians equivalent to 5.8 percent of the area of the West Bank as well as a safe-passage route from Hebron to the Gaza Strip via a highway that would remain part of the sovereign territory of Israel but where there would be no Israeli presence.
Olmert is currently suggesting that his map provide the basis for the resumption of negotiations with the Palestinians. In his talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and foreign statesmen, the former prime minister has said the international community must demand a formal response from Abbas to the Olmert proposal and proceed from there in the talks. Olmert has not presented the detailed map to Netanyahu.
While this can be seen as an admirable effort by Olmert, I’m not sure how feasible it is. I seriously question Olmert’s, Netanyahu’s or anyone else’s ability to get this through the Knesset unscathed and actually deliever this kind of land to the Palestinians. This is what makes Middle Eastern peace such a difficult proposition. The other notable thing is that there is no mention of East Jerusalem or of a Right of Return. While I personally believe the latter is unfeasible and not something the Palestinians can expect to receive, the former, in my opinion, or East Jerusalem being the capital of a Palestinian state, should be a minimum condition to peace or land deals. If the original proposal did not include East Jerusalem then it is perfectly understandable that Abu Mazen didn’t want to sign it, that sort of concession would need a great deal of thought and discussion, if it was to be made.
The EU has taken a stand, of sorts, on Jerusalem, stating that it needs to be shared between Israel and Palestine and that it must be the joint-capital of both states:
“If there is to be a genuine peace, a way must be found through negotiations to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of two states,” EU foreign ministers agreed in a statement released on Tuesday, diplomats said.
That was Israel’s main concern: There was a lot of fear that the EU would demand the 1967 borders be locked in place. If those borders were fixed, then major Jewish settlements like Gilo would become part of a future Palestinian state — an unacceptable outcome for the Israeli government. The original policy document, drafted by Sweden, made just that demand, but it was watered down in last-minute discussions this morning.
To be fair, the wording of the original statement was pretty rigid:
“The EU will not recognize any changes to the pre-1967 borders, including with regard to Jerusalem,” said the [original] EU ministerial draft. [Haaretz]
I don’t think it necessarily warrants some of the Israeli rhetoric though, like comparing Sweden’s approach to Israeli-Palestinian peace to IKEA furniture, as one official said:
“The peace process in the Middle East is not like IKEA furniture,” one official said, making a reference to the do-it-yourself Swedish furniture chain. “It takes more than a screw and a hammer, it takes a true understanding of the constraints and sensitivities of both sides, and in that Sweden failed miserably.” [FP]
FP makes a good point on this:
Please. The original draft praises both Israel’s settlement freeze and U.S. mediation efforts. You can debate whether or not it’s productive for Sweden to be issuing proclamations on where the Palestinian border should be drawn, but in the end, these declarations have only about as much weight as the parties involved choose to give them. Which, judging from the righteous outrage out of Avigdor Lieberman’s shop, seems to be quite a lot. This sort of thing might play well to Lieberman’s political base, but internationally it just gives the EU’s East Jerusalem critique way more publicity than it would have had before.
The Swedes hold the EU rotating presidency at the moment, and the EU is an entity that people listen to, it’s not one of the unfortunately irrelevant minor countries of the UN General Assembly. If Israel chooses to respond to Swedish declarations in this manner, it just gives them more prominence and ensures that more people listen. While the EU obviously doesn’t have the same sort of international clout as the US, it’s definitely not irrelevant and the Israelis are only making it more relevant, particularly in the international press.
Interestingly, Haaretz also calls the claims over Jerusalem “the most intractable issue” in the conflict which to me seems a bit of an exaggeration. I’m pretty sure right of return, overall borders and demilitarisation of the Palestinian state are also pretty important issues. Oh and, Gaza/Hamas. I don’t think Israel’s going to let up on that one without a fight.
The Israelis have reacted in typical fashion to the resolution, ignoring the content of it itself and accusing it of not being productive for the ‘peace process’ (I’m starting to forget what that is meant to refer to) and calling “the Palestinian refusal to return to the negotiating table” the main factor halting peace negotiations at the moment. The settlement freeze notwithstanding, I’m pretty sure there are bigger factors than this one. Like maybe, Abu Mazen’s growing irrelevance? The US State Department has toed the line and, in not so many words, told the EU to stay out of it.
Meanwhile, Israel is attempting to further isolate Gaza by imposing an unofficial block on officials entering the territory. It’s run by terrorists y’all! Why would you want to go there? Go to Egypt instead, it’s nicer!
In other news:
- Check out the interview/eyewitness account of Cast Lead over at PoliticalTheatrics
- Iraq elections have been shifted to March 7th
- Lady Gaga met the Queen of England. ZOMG!
Ah, the peace process. Israel and Palestine, India and Pakistan, China and Tibet, Syria and Israel. So many countries, so many statements, such little action.
This morning’s yawnworthy/WTF news of the day (depending on your state of mind) news are the lack of political developments on the Israel/Palestine front. Hillary Clinton asked Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to go ahead with negotiations without the precondition that Israel stop building settlements. Abbas said no, Netanyahu comes off as sounding – in the American press – as the benevolent man who wants peace but can’t talk to anyone who sets any conditions.
We’re not just back to square one here folks, we’re regressing back in time. One of these days I’m just going to paste an old news item from the ’90s, replace the names and it’ll be as accurate.
Parting note: today’s must read on Israel and US relations - Gideon Levy in Ha’aretz: America, stop sucking up to Israel.