Deepening crisis

Khalid Amayreh in Occupied Palestine

[L-R:] Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), Ahmad Qadhaf Al-Dam.
Libyan Prime Minister Baghdadi al-Mahmudi in the middle.

The bleak mood in Ramallah that preceded the Sirte Arab Summit in Libya became even more sombre as Palestinian Authority (PA) leader Mahmoud Abbas discovered that the Arab leaders whose help he was seeking were themselves helpless and could do next to nothing in terms of helping the Palestinians at this crucial juncture in their struggle.

Having engaged in some acrimonious exchanges with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in Sirte, and with the Arab League failing miserably to take a decisive stand with regard to Israel's determination to steal additional Palestinian land, and in broad daylight, the Palestinian leader appeared in despair. A reliable source in Ramallah spoke of "a certain propensity" on the part of the PA leader "to go it alone".

"The president thinks that many Arab leaders are quite detached from the Palestinian reality and are trying to settle old accounts with the Palestinian leadership more than they are interested in helping the Palestinian cause." The source, who requested anonymity, described the Sirte meeting as "another monumental failure because everyone wants to use the Palestinians as cannon fodder." "The Arabs want us to confront Israel and the United States alone, but when we ask them why they don't do the same, they shut up and tell us that they have their own interests to protect and care about."

The Sirte meeting gave the Obama administration 30 days to get Israel to adhere to the basics of the peace process, including pressuring Israel to renew the freeze on Jewish settlement activities. However, it is widely thought that this one-month hiatus is aimed more at unburdening the Obama administration of the task of confronting Israel during the upcoming election season rather than seeing any concrete results from any renewed American efforts at reactivating an exhausted and unpromising peace process.

For its part, Israel has paid very little attention to message from Sirte as an all-out settlement expansion campaign is underway all over the West Bank. In fact, settler groups have been so euphoric about the fresh settlement campaign that the rabbi of Kiryat Arba, Dov Lior, suggested, jokingly or half- jokingly, to another settler leader that he should become the "next mayor of Nablus". "I know you can overcome the problem in one month, even in one day," said the rabbi, alluding to ethnically cleansing the city's 200,000 Arab inhabitants.

The official stance of the Israeli government has been a cessation of settlement activities for a month or two months in exchange for solemn Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. Netanyahu said his "condition" was not negotiable, adding that "the right of the Jewish people to live in Palestine [is] the heart and soul of the conflict." This came hours after the Israeli government approved a controversial law obliging non-Jews aspiring to become Israeli citizens to pledge allegiance to Israel as a "Jewish state".

Visibly insulted by the Israeli "proposal", Palestinian officials said there was no way Palestinians could recognise Israel as a Jewish state. PA negotiator Saeb Ereikat said the issue was a distraction: "This has nothing to do with the peace process or with the obligations that Israel has not implemented. This is completely rejected." Abbas has on numerous occasions rejected the incessant Israeli demand, arguing that the religious nature of Israel was none of the business of Palestinians.

Most observers of the Arab-Israeli conflict see the driving motive behind Israeli demands for Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state as linked to the enduring Zionist desire to expel most or all Arabs who have Israeli citizenship and who constitute around 25 per cent of Israel's overall population. On several occasions, Israeli leaders representing various political and ideological orientations declared that Israeli Arabs would have to seek national fulfilment elsewhere, probably in a prospective Palestinian state on parts of the West Bank.

With its horizons getting narrower, it appears increasingly likely that the Palestinian leadership will employ new strategies to save the two-state solution from imminent collapse. This could include going, again, to the UN General Assembly and the Security Council for recognition of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank based on 1967 borders. However, such a move would have to be coordinated first with the United States, which is likely to veto any move that Israel opposes.

It has been reported that the Obama administration has given Israel a set of far- reaching guarantees, including vetoing any Arab-sponsored resolutions at the UN requesting recognition of a Palestinian state without Israeli consent. Were this scenario thwarted by the US and Israel, the PA might contemplate dismantling itself and abandoning the two-state strategy completely. This might also involve the resignation of President Abbas.

Such speculation abounds in the Palestinian street. Abbas was due to deliver a speech to the Palestinian people last week in which it was rumoured he would announce his resignation. The Obama administration reportedly asked the Palestinian leader to postpone the speech pending more favourable circumstances in the peace process. Some Palestinian officials have suggested that the Obama administration has tacitly asked the Palestinian leadership to "put everything in the freezer" for at least one month -- at least until US congressional elections in November are over.


Photo: In this handout image supplied by the Palestinian Press Office (PPO), Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas greets Libyan Leader's Cousin Ahmad Qadhaf Al-Dam on his arrival at the airport in Sirte on March 26, 2010 in Libya. Abbas arrived in Libya to participate in the Arab summit. (Zimbio)


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