Friday, December 11, 2009

Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority

Recent news of Mahmoud Abbas’ announcement that he would not seek re-election as the President of the Palestinian Authority in forthcoming elections in 2010 may signal the beginning of a new era of instability and conflict in Israel. The peace process may have hit another obstacle in the long and similarly interminable journey. The Financial Times has recently reported that the Palestinian leadership is now turning its attention to new strategies to end controversial Israeli occupation. The absence of succession planning within the Palestinian ranks is also a matter of some concern, but the question is whether Mr Abbas (aka Abu Mazen) can be persuaded to remain as leader, notwithstanding the announcement.

In exploring different strategies and solutions to end conflict (from the Palestinian perspective), one strategy that is finding favour is for Palestine to unilaterally declare statehood, in respect of the following territories: the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. These were territories that were occupied by Israel in 1967. They will seek a resolution from the United Nations, and rely on this body’s Security Council to prevail and enforce the same. The question is whether the US will support this bold move. By no means is a ‘two state’ solution imminent. The current administration of the US will be called to pursue this agenda in the UN Security Council, but it appears to have moved away from the previous Administration position that Israel should refraining from building and expanding settlements in the West Bank. Even from the Palestinian end, Abbas did not have the support that he would have needed to forge ahead with a two-state solution. Hamas, for example won the last Palestinian general election, which is held every year. Hamas proceeded to oust Fatah from Gaza. Fatah has been the political engine and controlling lever of the Palestinian Authority for almost 50 years. The surge of Hamas within the Palestinian Liberation Organisation is likely to be another obstacle against a lasting peace. Many of the Hamas West Bank MPs are in Israeli prisons. Israeli soldiers have also been incarcerated in Palestinian territories like Gaza. How can a meaningful democratic solution be brokered in this tinderbox when MPs are in jail, extremist elements still use violence and ruling moderates are ousted from territories. History is likely to judge Mahmoud Abbas harshly. The US President, as a Noble Peace Prize winner, should first vindicate the judgment of the selection committee by brokering a lasting peace in this region, and making it a priority for US foreign policy.

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