Palestinian shock: President says he wants to quit
Mahmoud Abbas has had enough. He feels thoroughly humiliated by Israel and USA, and has announced he will not stand for reelection. Some think this is a bluff or negotiating tactic to get USA to put more pressure on Israel, but Israel has already called the bluff by Obama demanding a freeze on settlement construction, so Abbas has probably realized his attempts to compromise with Israel have gotten nowhere. Israel has no interest in an equitable two-state solution, regardless of how strenuously it pretends otherwise. This story is from Associated Press
Palestinian shock: President says he wants to quit
By MOHAMMED DARAGHMEH (AP) – 10 hours ago
RAMALLAH, West Bank — By announcing he doesn’t want another term in office, embattled Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas pushed the Mideast peace effort into unknown territory Thursday, opening the way to a succession battle that could play into the hands of his rival, the militant Hamas.
But it also could boost the prospects of a popular candidate who reportedly wants to run for the presidency from his Israeli prison cell.
Abbas blamed his decision on the stalemate in peace talks, but the wording of his televised speech raised speculation that it was not final and could be a tactic for pushing Israel and the U.S. toward a larger compromise.
He said only that it was “desire not to run in the upcoming elections” which are set for January but could be delayed, extending his current term indefinitely.
Abbas took over after the death of Yasser Arafat in 2004, and Western leaders have come to see him as a symbol of moderation. Although criticized as indecisive and associated with the corruption-tainted old guard of his Fatah party, he has given free rein to his prime minister, Salam Fayyad, to reform the West Bank’s economy and boost its police, which has resulted in a limited economic upturn.
But the stalemate with Israel overshadows all, and Fatah activists say the party is in a panic, fearing a fragmented slate of candidates that would hand victory to Hamas.
Late last month, Abbas told U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that he would not run, but recanted after President Barack Obama called him and expressed his commitment to Mideast peacemaking, Abbas’ aides said. A senior Palestinian official told The Associated Press that Abbas informed other Fatah leaders of his latest decision several days ago but didn’t tell Obama.
Insiders say he was disheartened by Washington’s refusal to press Israel harder for a freeze on West Bank settlement construction, and that this week’s visit by Clinton, when she appeared to side with Israel over the settlement issue, was the last straw.
Abbas has insisted that he won’t resume negotiations until Israel stops all construction.
If he were to concede on that issue, Fatah could lose the election. If that happened, the international community would have no one to deal with but Hamas, which denies Israel’s right to exist and rejects the two-state solution endorsed by Fatah.
Yossi Sarid, an Israeli former lawmaker identified with the peace movement, said Israel and the U.S. humiliated Abbas, leading to his decision. “This means that we are probably entering a terrible period where the extremists will run the show,” Sarid said.
The curious incident when USA persuaded Abbas to withdraw support from the Goldstone report on Israeli war crimes in Gaza, which caused such an uproar Abbas had to apologize to his people, is one glaring example of how Abbas has been humiliated. The absurd ploy by Netanyahu, offering to slow down construction of West Bank settlements, which Clinton jumped to praise as “unprecedented,” may indeed have been the last straw. Abbas must have realized that all the tough talk from Obama, calling for a settlement freeze, was a meaningless bluff. Israeli President Shimon Peres tried to persuade Abbas to change his mind.
President Shimon Peres telephoned Abbas on Wednesday night in an effort to persuade the Palestinian leader to change his mind. Peres told Abbas that he was worried that the decision would trigger political crisis in the Palestinian Authority, leading to a Hamas takeover in the West Bank.
“If you leave the Palestinians would lose their chance for an independent state,” Peres told Abbas. “The situation in the region would deteriorate. Stay, for the Palestinian people’s sake,” he said.
What was that reference to losing the chance for an independent state, blackmail? Abbas has been manipulated by Israeli politicians taking him for a weak-kneed, eager to compromise fool too long. More from the New York Times
Top Palestinian Rules Out Race for Re-election
By ETHAN BRONNER and MARK LANDLER
Published: November 5, 2009
RAMALLAH, West Bank — The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, warned on Thursday that he would not seek re-election, the latest sign that the Obama administration’s drive to broker a Middle East peace accord, one of President Obama’s key foreign policy goals, has fallen into disarray.
Mr. Abbas, 74, has threatened to step aside before, but coming immediately after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s visit to the region aimed at reviving a peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, his announcement laid bare the deepening tensions over the administration’s failure to extract an Israeli settlement freeze or any concessions from Arab leaders.
Mrs. Clinton’s visit, which she characterized as a success, sowed anger and confusion among Palestinians and other Arabs after she praised as “unprecedented” the offer by the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to slow down, but not stop, construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
It was not clear whether Mr. Abbas, considered a moderate, pro-Western leader, was determined to quit, although he said his decision was final. He may stay in his post regardless, because it is far from certain that elections he has called for January will be held then and there are few alternatives to him as leader.
What seems clear is that high-level Israeli-Palestinian talks will not resume any time soon, despite Mr. Obama’s pledge in September to redouble American efforts to get the process back on track. A top aide to Mr. Abbas said a large part of his “despondency and frustration” was because of Mr. Obama’s unrealized promises to the region. Without a stop to Jewish settlements, he said, Islamist rivals in Hamas could triumph, and violence could break out.
“There was high expectation when he arrived on the scene,” said the aide, Nabil Shaath, who leads the Fatah party’s foreign affairs department, speaking of Mr. Obama’s pledge to be a peacemaker. “Now there is a total retreat, which has destroyed trust instead of building trust.”
American officials said that they had narrowed gaps since Mr. Obama took office, and insisted that they would continue to push Israel for a freeze to settlement construction. They are also plotting more modest steps, including lower-level contacts between Israelis and Palestinians, which they hope will stabilize the situation while they try to figure out a Plan B.
Some Middle East analysts said they were puzzled that the administration did not have a backup plan for keeping the process on track in the event that Israel balked at a full freeze.
“Our posture with Israel has weakened, our hope to strengthen the Palestinians has fallen back, and our credibility in the Arab world has been damaged,” said Robert Malley, a peace negotiator during the Clinton administration. “We are victims of events rather than masters of events.”
Among those disruptions is the recent United Nations report criticizing Israel’s actions in Gaza last winter. The United Nations General Assembly voted Thursday to endorse that report, and the administration, backed by a House resolution, does not want it sent to the Security Council.
The report alleges possible war crimes by Israel and Hamas in the fighting, which killed at least 1,200 people, nearly all Palestinian. If the report gets bottled up, said Mr. Shaath, the Abbas aide, “It really is like telling the Palestinians to go back to violence.”
The Palestinians say they will not start negotiations fresh but want to renew them from where they left off with former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. He apparently offered more than 90 percent of the West Bank and some form of international or shared rule over Jerusalem.
Mr. Netanyahu has made it clear that Israel wants to retain much more land for security purposes, and that Jerusalem is off the table. Speaking of Mr. Abbas, Qaddoura Fares, another Fatah leader, said on Israel Radio, “I think he’s reached the conclusion that he’s reached a dead end.”
In his speech, Mr. Abbas said, “Peace is more important than any political achievement or any government party or coalition if the results of that government push the region toward disaster or the unknown.” But he added, “We were surprised by the United States’ closing its eyes to the Israeli position.”
Abbas should not have been surprised by that, but he has been duped by Israeli and US duplicity all along. It was not his fault that the peace negotiations reached a dead end; he bent over backwards to accommodate Israel, and for what? The hardliners took over in Israel, and now it appears the same will happen in Palestine. Abbas has reached the end of his rope. He realizes his willingness to compromise has come to naught. Israel wants to confiscate as much land as it can get away with. Netanyahu has forced Obama to back down to the point that Obama might as well concede defeat; his efforts to restart peace negotiations are going nowhere fast. The Goldstone report will be bottled up; USA will see to that with its veto power in the UN Security Council, so Israel will escape any repercussions of its war crimes. Where does that leave the Palestinians? Israel may violate international law with impunity, and Palestinians are supposed to nobly suffer under Israeli occupation? Is this diplomacy, Obama style?
The US insistence that it will continue to push for a settlement freeze is as meaningless as Obama insisting he will continue to push for a public option in the health insurance reform bill. Neither is a priority, but Obama likes to say things he knows sound good even though he knows they are not about to come about. At least he takes a principled position, which should count for something even if he has no intention of sticking to it? In the real world, words mean a lot less than deeds. Words can inspire hope only so long before contrary deeds dash that hope. Abbas has lost hope; he realizes his faith in US and Israeli good faith was misplaced. His moderation has backfired, and the words of the Israeli former lawmaker, Yossi Sarid, may well be prophetic, the Middle East may be entering a terrible period where the extremists will run the show. Since the moderate stance of Abbas was met by nothing but duplicity and treachery from Israel and USA, Palestinians may well feel they have no choice but another Intifada.