Déjà Vu With Mahmoud Abbas

New tricks to get the U.N. General Assembly to recognize the Palestinian Authority.

We are about to experience déjà vu with Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), President of the Palestinian Authority (PA), as he will attempt to have the U.N. General Assembly recognize the PA – this time – as a Non-Member Observer State by the U.N. General Assembly, an upgrade he hopes will firmly establish the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, captured by Israel in 1967 Six Day War, as Palestinian territories in the eyes of the world.  Abbas will address the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 27, and then file the application for observer state recognition with the world body, said Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riad Malki.

The Palestinians, who failed to gain the necessary majority in the U.N. Security Council as a member State last year, will be seeking an alternative path in the form of a non-member Observer state.  Their current status at the U.N. is non-state observer, and they are represented by Riyad Mansour.  FM Riad Malki recently said, “The application will be deposited and then we will be in touch with the members of the General Assembly, consulting with them on the proper timing for applying.”

Mahmoud Abbas it seems will do anything to avoid negotiations on a permanent peace agreement with Israel.  On the other hand, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cannot do enough to lure Abbas and the Palestinians to the negotiating table. Last month Netanyahu offered, through his negotiator Itzhak Molcho, to free 25 Palestinian security prisoners convicted of murdering Israelis, along with a subsequent release of 100 prisoners in four stages by the end of 2012. Netanyahu requested in exchange that Abbas meet with him and resume negotiations.  Abbas, through his negotiator Saeb Erekat, refused the offer and then demanded the release of all 123 prisoners being held in Israeli jails since prior to the Oslo Accords (1993). Abbas’ second demand was that PA security forces in the West Bank be provided with new weapons.

Netanyahu, giving in undoubtedly to U.S. pressure (Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on a visit to Israel July 16, 2012, stated that “the status quo is unsustainable”), declared last week that he will double the number of prisoners to be released to 50 on condition that Abbas freeze his intended application to the U.N. for non-member observer state status in September; that Abbas meets with him, and, resumes the negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel.  Moreover, Netanyahu, agreed to the Palestinian demand for new weapons.

True to the adage that the “squeaky wheel gets the grease,” Abbas’ failure to hold elections in the West Bank and his lack of popularity among the Palestinians is being compensated for by generating a great deal of international attention to the cause with his posturing.  And while events in the Arab world, especially in Egypt and Syria, have overshadowed the Palestinian issue, Abbas’ recent positions and his threats to go to the UN, have kept the Palestinian issue in the forefront and have succeeded in turning the tables on Israel and increasing the pressure on them to make further concessions to the Palestinians.

Tony Blair, former British Prime Minister and the current Quartet representative to the Middle East, will be in the area this week – a visit that comes on the heels of Russian President Putin’s June meetings with Abbas in Bethlehem and PM Netanyahu in Jerusalem.  Blair will, no doubt, also be seeking further concessions from Israel in order to persuade Abbas to return to the negotiating table.  During Putin’s visit to Israel and his meeting with Netanyahu, he was asked by Netanyahu to convey to Abbas the following message, “The key to peace is complex but in the end it is very simple: Either PA President Abbas must come here (to Jerusalem) or I must go to him, and I am willing for either of these possibilities to occur, either way however, we must begin to talk.”  The pressure on Israel seems to be working.

Last week, top officials representing 11 member countries of NAM – the Non-Aligned Movement (Indonesia , South Africa , Malaysia , Egypt , Zimbabwe , Zambia , Senegal , Colombia , India , Cuba and Bangladesh ) were scheduled to meet with Abbas in Ramallah. Representatives of four of the countries, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cuba, and Bangladesh, were denied entry by Israel as their countries have no diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.  NAM is made up of 120 countries (mainly Asian, African and Latin American) and constitutes almost two-thirds of the General Assembly membership.  Abbas expects that most of these countries will back his application to upgrade the status of “Palestine.”  Should the Palestinian ploy succeed, it will enable them to join a number of U.N. agencies - including the International Court of Justice.

The Obama administration, along with the European Union, is applying pressure on the Palestinians in Ramallah to postpone their application to the U.N. until after the U.S. elections in November. In the meantime a debate among the Palestinians rages on.   Abbas is inclined towards complying with Obama’s request to delay the U.N. application while Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the P.L.O. Executive Committee disagrees, saying “There are some who might want to wait until after November because of American pressure, but the Americans have done nothing but put pressure on the Palestinians, without delivering anything.” She added, “What we need is to move fast.”

It is difficult to predict what President Obama will do if he should be reelected in November. But it is reasonable to assume that he will have a debt to repay should Abbas wait until after the U.S. elections.  It is also clear that in such an eventuality Obama would pressure Israel to end all Israeli construction in Judea, Samaria, and Jerusalem – in keeping with the demand Abbas has already made to the U.S.

Mahmoud Abbas is raising the ante to make it impossible to reach an agreement.  He knows, as Arafat knew before him (and demonstrated at the Camp David Summit of July 2000), that he must deliver on the “Palestinians right of return” into Israel, a condition that no Israeli government could possibly accept (an acceptance of which would be akin to demographic and political suicide).  Abbas, even more so than Arafat, is keenly aware that compromising on the “right of return” is not merely political suicide for him, but is a certain invitation to assassination.

Moreover, with Hamas breathing at his neck and eager to expose him as an “American lackey,” Abbas is limited in his capacity to maneuver.  But, this assumes that he is remotely amenable in his heart to making peace with Israel. A former deputy to Arafat’s terrorist organization and an author of a PhD thesis that is nothing less than Holocaust denial, Abbas may be bribed to a degree to make a few gestures for peace, but he will not make a real peace with the Jewish state.

The Obama administration, pushing the “peace process” as a key policy initiative in the Middle East,  refuses to recognize the fact that even if Abbas returned to the negotiating table, the talks are unlikely to result in a meaningful peace.  Pushing Israel to make dangerous territorial and other concessions will only encourage the Palestinians (and the Arab states) to believe that Israel can be pressured through its western friends to ultimate submission.  Netanyahu must therefore learn to say no to additional conditions set by Abbas, and repeat those denials to American and European governments.  Israel must not implore Abbas to return to the negotiating table.  Instead it must set three basic counter conditions: the Palestinians must forego the “right of return” to Israel; they must recognize Israel as a Jewish State; and, a future Palestinian state must be demilitarized.

Abbas is certain to get his recognition from the U.N. General Assembly next September or beyond, but Israel still holds the major cards.  Israel controls most of the West Bank outside the major Palestinian cities and can always exercise the option of a one-state solution in which Israel incorporates all of the West Bank.

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