Will Paris attacks overshadow quest for Palestinian statehood?

President Mahmoud Abbas' constant objection to violence earned him a first-row place among world leaders at the Paris march against terror, but won't guarantee that the Palestinian issue remains a top priority.

al-monitor French President Francois Hollande (L) welcomes Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (R) at the Elysee Palace before attending a solidarity march (Marche Republicaine) in the streets of Paris, Jan. 11, 2015. Photo by REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol.
Shlomi Eldar

Shlomi Eldar


Topics covered

terrorist attacks, statehood, palestine, mahmoud abbas, israel, diplomacy, charlie hebdo, benjamin netanyahu

Jan 13, 2015

While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had to elbow and jostle his way to the front row, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas was accorded a prominent place at the forefront of the anti-terrorism march in Paris on Jan. 11. According to a report on Israel's Channel 2 TV station, Abbas received a treatment reserved for "kings and presidents" only because of the Israeli prime minister’s insistence on attending the march. The message Paris conveyed to Jerusalem was that if the prime minister decided to attend the march despite being an unwelcome guest, the hosts would make sure to put the PA’s president in the limelight, which is precisely what happened. Abbas marched in the first row of leaders alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel and his French host, President Francois Hollande, as if he were the leader of a great country.

Ostensibly, the Palestinians have every reason to be pleased with the French display of support. The historic picture published all over by the world media is another step in the effort to cement Abbas’ international standing as one of the legitimate leaders among the nations of the world, which may help him secure a majority in the UN Security Council in recognizing a Palestinian state.

For months, Europe has been embracing Abbas — an embrace that has only been getting stronger. Although the Palestinians experienced failure on Dec. 31 when the Security Council rejected their proposal to force Israel to end the conflict and establish a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders, PA officials are nonetheless convinced that 2015 will be the year of their independence from Israel. They believe that international support for a Palestinian state will only increase.

The honor that was accorded to Abbas notwithstanding, the Palestinians might also stand to lose from the recent developments in Paris. They are concerned that if the wave of Islamic terrorism continues to strike at the capitals of Europe, the continent’s priorities will change. European leaders will have to spend their time defending their countries against al-Qaeda and Islamic State (IS) cells while allaying tensions with their local Muslim communities. Consequently, they will not have the time to deal with the State of Palestine and the problems generated by recognizing it.

This fear is not unfounded. The European countries in general, and France in particular, have woken up to a new reality. Even if we try to shun generalities, radical Islam has given Muslims and Islam a bad name across the globe. The beheadings in Syria and Iraq and the terrorist attacks in the name of religion are a threat to world order, naturally mandating a change in the priorities, which were very clear and structured until Jan. 7. Although no one will say this openly, the Muslim populations around Europe will become intelligence targets to track down the next assailant(s) who might stage a murderous terror attack. Blindly supporting the establishment of a Palestinian state in the turbulent Middle East is getting a new meaning.

Abbas is justly regarded as someone combating Palestinian terrorism, but in the West Bank, and mainly in the Gaza Strip, there are quite a few organizations and cells for whom the preaching of global jihad and Islamic fanaticism are their raison d’etre. There are small cells in Gaza that are directly affiliated with al-Qaeda branches, operating in accordance with their doctrines and modus operandi. Their activists praise each terror attack or the beheading of a Western citizen. Suffice it to watch some of the videos they disseminate on the Internet to understand that the madness is not confined only to Syria and Iraq, and that the impact of IS, bin Laden and other radical Salafist organizations has also trickled down to other places, including the PA.

It is highly questionable whether Europe will continue to support the establishment of a Palestinian state with the same fervor no matter the scenario. Will France, which has already taken a symbolic move to recognize a Palestinian state, continue its policy in full swing even after last week’s terrorist attacks?

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls expressed concern over the possibility that anti-Semitism would scare the country's Jews away from France. In an interview with journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, published Jan. 10 on the Atlantic website, Valls said: "If 100,000 Jews leave, France will no longer be France. The French Republic will be judged a failure." Although the interview actually took place before the attack on the Hyper Cacher in Paris, these trenchant remarks and the fear that the Jews will abandon France have rendered this option more realistic in the wake of these events. "The Jews of France are profoundly attached to France and the government can work with the Jewish community to make it more secure,” Valls said in the interview.

Over the last few days, one could hear the claim by which the stampede toward the establishment of a Palestinian state, with France tightly leading the way and giving its support, might not serve the sincere desire of its leaders to give the country’s Jews the sense of security they need.

Abbas may well feel very pleased having walked in the front row during the march in Paris, but at the same time he needs to bear in mind that the war on terror does not only change priorities but it also changes world order.

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