The dilemma of Mahmoud Abbas

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Mahmoud Abbas is caught between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

Many Palestinians blame his endlessly conciliatory policy towards Israel for the near loss of their cause.

The Israelis and all those who follow them claim Abbas is a rejectionist who shied away from negotiations, unreasonably opposed all peace offers, including the last one from President Trump, without offering alternatives.

They also accuse him of encouraging terrorism by giving salaries to Palestinian martyrs’ families. For Israel, any Palestinian who dies fighting for his legitimate rights is a terrorist whose death is not sufficient punishment.

His family too must be punished by having their house demolished. The Palestinian Authority (PA) must also be punished for not letting them starve.

Israel deducts what it estimates is paid to martyrs’s families from the tax money it collects on behalf of the PA — outright theft of the money of Palestinian workers.

On the contrary, Abbas is adamantly opposed to any form of resistance. He condemns any violence against the occupiers. He openly commits to peace by negotiations only, repeatedly affirming that there will be no intifadas or organised resistance, even though resistance against occupation is a right.

Only when cornered, he talks about non-violent popular resistance, but does nothing to encourage it. Indeed peaceful demonstrations in Palestinian cities are often crushed by PA police.

It was due to his willingness to go to such lengths to appease Israel that Abbas was Washington’s choice to succeed Yassir Arafat, as former US secretary of State Condoleezza Rice revealed in her memoirs.

Abbas did everything expected of him, especially continuing “security cooperation” with the occupier.

During his 15 years in office, he worked to crush any move against the occupation while Israel continued to colonise Palestinian land.

The root of the division between Hamas and the PA that started the moment Hamas won legislative elections in 2006 is the question of resistance. Simply put, Abbas opposes resistance.

He demanded that Hamas disarm and fall in line with his approach of endless negotiations, despite massive territorial and diplomatic losses on every front.

Any objective look at the evidence proves that Abbas was never a “rejectionist” who refused to negotiate, nor a supporter of “terror”.

On the contrary, he met almost all of Israel’s demands. He settled for a state on no more than a fifth of historic Palestine and subject to severe restrictions on sovereignty, and he severely compromised the right of return.

Abbas negotiated with every Israeli prime minister. He welcomed Israeli delegations to Ramallah and repeatedly assured them that he will never allow the Palestinians to resort to anything other than peaceful begging and hollow appeals to an ambivalent international community.

Abbas did not change. So what justifies Israel’s condemnation of him? It is simply his unwillingness to surrender whatever is left to Israel’s endless and insatiable demands.

That is precisely why Israel and the US turned against Arafat, after the Oslo accords turned him from a liberation fighter into a subcontractor for the occupation. At the end, Arafat could not surrender more than he had already given up, hence the conspiracy to replace him with Abbas.

Israel will never accept yes for an answer: Whenever its demands are met, instead of being satisfied, it simply demands more.

Abbas did finally scream out in pain when asked to accept Trump’s Deal of the Century — a final surrender of his people’s cause.

This came after Trump already recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the US embassy, recognised Israeli settlements as legal and did everything possible to liquidate the issue of Palestinian refugees, including by ending all US funding for UNRWA. Israel’s Knesset also passed the so-called Nation-State Law defining the entire homeland of the Palestinians as exclusively the national home of the Jewish people.

What Israel and the US want from Abbas is not that he negotiate, but that he legitimise a surrender document written in advance and over which Palestinians have no say whatsover.

When even Abbas could not do so, they decided to proceed without him: That is when Israel decided to go ahead with unilateral annexation.

Despite a cosmetic delay in annexation (for which Israel is being rewarded), Israel remains fully committed to annexation and continues to build settlements all over the West Bank.

Abbas, and through him the Palestinians, were supposed to accept what was dictated by Israel with “negotiations” providing only a cover for a fait accompli.

Yet the “Deal of the Century” was rightly rejected, not just by the Palestinians, but by many states, organisations and leaders worldwide because it nullifies international law and provides no basis for a just outcome that restores Palestinian rights.

But even after all this, Abbas offered to engage in fresh negotiations under the auspices of the Quartet. He has called for an international conference next year to reach a settlement on the basis of UN resolutions, the two-state formula and the Arab Peace Initiative.

Earlier, the PA offered to accept a demilitarised state within the 1967 lines with East Jerusalem as its capital — an offer Abbas repeated in recent days to the UN General Assembly.

Naturally, Abbas’ UN speech was dismissed by Israel’s UN ambassador as “lies and incitement against Israel” and “continued rejectionism”.

I am not defending Abbas’ strategy — which has only led Palestinians to disaster. I am trying to explain that he was never a rejectionist or promoter of violence, let alone terrorism.

His desperate call for new negotiations is another ill-advised move that will only thrust him back in the same vicious cycle which for three decades led to one failure after another. Nor will this move buy him time or rehabilitate his eroding standing, locally, regionally or internationally — if that is the aim.

But what else could the aim be? Even Abbas must understand that the US, with Israel’s approval, is still the only decision-making power with respect to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Who would convene an international conference that would challenge this American hegemony?

As for the Quartet, that body was only established to ensure American control over the “peace process” and to remove the question of Palestine from the auspices of the UN. How could a body created to implement American orders work against them?

Finally, how relevant is the talk about the two-state solution with the West Bank almost totally colonised?

Israel and the US do not even talk about two states anymore. For them there will only be a single state, Israel, and the Palestinians will either agree to live under permanent subjugation or leave.

That is the brutal reality. Abbas’ strategy and the whole Oslo framework have been totally defeated. But the Palestinian people have not been defeated and will never surrender to Israeli and American schemes.

That is still a tremendous strength and asset, but it requires a strategy attuned to the reality of a people struggling for liberation from colonialism and apartheid with all that this entails.

Pretending that the “peace process” of the 1990s can be revived is delusion.

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