There was a brief piece in Al Jazeera today about the upcoming direct talks between Israel and Palestine, now that the Palestinians have officially agreed to talks. The onus of the article basically a reminder that if Israel does not extend the settlement freeze and resumes colonizing Palestinian land, the Palestinians will drop out of the negotiations.
Steve Clemons remarks in the article that the Palestinians must have received some official guarantee from the US that the freeze would continue:
“[S]enior officials from the White House [told me] that they had received informal communications and commitments from the Israelis that the settlement freeze would be extended”.
“I don’t think this would have come together, I don’t think Mahmoud Abbas would have been able to sell it to his constituents, unless those informal commitments had been communicated.”
This is probably true and represents an important point for the Palestinians. It is unlikely that Abbas would enter into negotiations without some sort of guarantee that Israel would stop eating up Palestinian land. The part that confused me was about pleasing Abbas’ constituents. Looking back at Abbas’ political history, it is pretty clear that the man does not have any constituents. Though he was elected President, he recently canceled local elections – a move which imprisoned Palestinians leader Mustafa Barghouthi called part of the “slow death of Palestinian democracy.” Furthermore, a recent poll showed that 71% of Palestinians were dissatisfied with the Palestinian government and a shocking 14.8% said they trusted Abbas (though that is up from 3% in 2003).
[tweetmeme] So hardly any Palestinians support Abbas and the last elections – the means of determining one’s constituency – were cancelled, I have to wonder if Abbas’ hesitancy was due to his concerns over his levels of support. More realistically, I assume, the logic behind not wanting to be involved with negotiations while Israel builds settlements is two-fold. First, it would be silly to think that Abbas is not generally concerned for the future of Palestine. No logical politician would enter negotiations while the ”peace-partner” continues to take land.
Secondly, and perhaps more to the point, Abbas must be worried about how history will portray him. Undoubtedly, the creation of a viable Palestinian state and the end of the Israeli occupation would be portrayed as a great accomplishment for the Palestinian leader (despite those who are calling for the restoration of the entire Palestinian state – i.e. eliminate Israel). However, if the future Palestinian state is nothing more than a collection of Bantustans caused by continued Israeli colonization – particularly during negotiations, History would inevitably frown on the man that allowed such a situation.
If the Palestinian reaction to Abbas’ decision to call for the postponement of the UN vote on the Goldstone Report is any indication, it is very likely that a peace deal that is not fair – or perceived to be fair – to Palestinians will be seen as a major error by the President. After the blundering of the Goldstone Report, Palestinians across the country (particularly in Gaza) were calling for the President’s resignation:
Yesterday, huge posters of the President Mahmoud Abbas pictures surrounded by victims of the Israeli war crimes were hanged everywhere in the streets of Gaza, with the phrase “To the JUNKYARD of history you traitor Mahmoud Abbas” written on them. The poster was adopted and signed by Palestinian academics and university professors. A conference in which the human rights organizations and the victim’s families spoke was held in Gaza under the same title of the poster. Everybody was seen throwing old shoes at the posters of Abbas. The West Bank Palestinian media did not report anything about the conference, the posters, or the families of the victims. In the West Bank, were the PA gang took control, such posters or even raising poster of the Palestinian victims is forbidden by the PA.
Breaking off talks at the first sign of continued Israeli expansion makes sense for Palestine and makes sense for Abbas’ grandchildren. Further settlement growth could eliminate the viability of a Palestinian state and humiliate a negotiating Abbas. With talks set to begin at the start of September, Abbas has one eye on the viability of a state and one eye on his legacy. Without any democratic backing or elections, Abbas stopped caring about his constituents, though he certainly does not want to look like a traitor in the eyes of History.
Photo from Pulse Media