Hamid Zangeneh writes in a guest column for Informed Comment:
We need a breakthrough in the Middle East peace process. One key problem is that the negotiator-in-chief for the Palestinians, President Mahmoud Abbas, lacks the legitimacy and grassroots support to represent his people properly.
Abbas (Abu Mazen), has been the Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)
since 11 November 2004 and President of the Palestinian National
Authority Since 15 January 2005. He was elected to serve until 9 January 2009. But he unilaterally extended his own term for another year and continues in office even after that deadline expired.
President Obama restarted the peace negotiations in earnest in late summer. But before they even got to the hard questions of Jerusalem and right to return, the ship of diplomacy struck an iceberg when the ban on Israeli settlement expansion expired on September 26, 2010. Ever since the expiration and Israeli refusal to extend the freeze, both parties are in their corners shouting conditions at each other through media. President Abbas is expressing Palestinians’ exasperation at the continuous Israeli expansion of settlements in the West Bank and demanding that they are stopped before any earnest discussion takes place and Prime Minister Netanyahu replies with the same old exhortation that the Palestinians should adhere to their obligations and renew direct peace talks in earnest without prior conditions. Both have cornered themselves in a position that compromise might be lethal to their political futures.
In his previous tenure as the Prime Minister Mr. Netanyahu’s campaign slogan was “making a safe peace.” That promise plus his inability to garner a large enough electoral mandate handicapped him as a potential peace partner for the Palestinians. In his current term, he has set a few similarly arduous, if not impossible, hurdles demanding Palestinians to concede the right of return of refugees by declaring Israel a Jewish State and demanding tangible progress with regard to Iran’s nuclear issues before the resumption of peace talks. Both these preconditions are non-starters. On the one hand, there is no reason for Iranians to provide its arch nemesis, Israel, a way out of its paralyzing impasse by giving concessions to the West on its own confrontation with the IAEA and the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) about peaceful use of nuclear technology. On the other hand, no matter who is at the helm of the Palestinian authority, the right of return is tantamount to its legitimacy. Mr. Abbas or any other leading member of the authority cannot delegitimize himself/themselves by denouncing it.
President Abbas and Palestinians, in general, do not have very many options available to them. If they, as it seems, depend on the Obama Administration to force Israelis into concessions in favor of Palestinians, they would be wasting their time similar to what their predecessors did. President Obama or any other American President would not unilaterally recognize or force the UNSC to recognize the pre-June 5, 1967 borders of the future Palestinian state under any circumstance. Obama, in particular, is incapable of forcing Israel to do the unthinkable and make concessions of large magnitudes because of many reasons including, but not limited to, the current state of affairs in the US, his favorability with the American public, the intransigent Republicans who have “promised” to make him a one term President as well as other intractable international issues regarding Pakistan, Iran and North Korea? Obama also knows the history of President Carter and Camp David Accord, President Bush’s Road Map, and President Clinton’s eleventh hour “punt.” As we know full well none of these initiatives ended the conflict despite the fact that all involved knew the tremendous good will any resolution of this festering wound would bring the US and the West.
We need a breakthrough. The breakthrough could be achieved only with one side caving-in and that one side is not going to be Netanyahu. He, like others before him, has the power and influence in the US but is politically incapable of giving-in because the same people who provide him power are the same people restraining him. American Jews and Christian Zionists provide Israel financial and political support and they do not necessarily want a peace settlement that might mean giving what is considered sacred to them.
Even with new goodies such as the current speculations about 20 new warplanes for Israel, there is no real incentive for Mr. Netanyahu to do anything path-breaking or substantially different from what he has been doing at this juncture. He is going to watch the grass grow and run out the clock until President Obama’s term is over or much better options present themselves. This means a few more years of Palestinian miserable life under occupation unless Mr. Abbas turns the table and scramble some eggs.
Therefore, Mr. Abbas and the rest of Palestinian leadership must put their house in order and come up with a united front. This goal requires that Mr. Abbas resign his Presidency and call for free elections. Only a government elected in accordance with the constitution of the Palestine Authority, which received votes from supporters of Abbas’s Fatah organization as well as from partisans of the Hamas Party, can hope to achieve a breakthrough that is increasingly receding, to wit a two-state solution.
Hamid Zangeneh, Professor of Economics, Widener University, Chester, Pennsylvania, USA.