Palestinian Illusions Follow Obama’s Victory

Article Summary
President Barack Obama’s re-election victory renewed some Palestinian hopes, but Hani al-Masri argues that the push for Palestinian observer state status at the United Nations is likely to undermine US efforts to resume talks between Ramallah and Israel.

Finally, the United States presidential elections were carried out. Barack Obama was re-elected president for a second term, defeating Republican challenger Mitt Romney. While Obama’s triumph is good news for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas — also know as Abu Mazen — it is a bad omen for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who shares strained relations with Obama.

Netanyahu had privately and publicly interfered in the US elections for the benefit of Obama’s opponent.

To what extent will Obama’s triumph be good for the Palestinians and bad for Israel? Only the future can answer this question. However, past experiences with American presidents in general, and with Obama in particular, especially after he has reneged on all his promises, do not give cause for great optimism. 

However, there are grounds for caution as Obama does not like Netanyahu, and will do his best to see anyone else in his place at the head of the Israeli government. Thus, the American president will back the decision of any future Israeli government regardless of its leader.

Nevertheless, US-Israeli relations and their implications on common interests are far more important than to be sullied by personal relations between the US president and the Israeli prime minister. Eventually, all differences will be solved in a way that best serves their common interests.

Some prominent Palestinian leaders are still pinning hopes on the existing and potential differences between the US administration and the Israeli government, and their impact on the upcoming Israeli elections, scheduled for January. This is particularly true in light of the faint possibility of the victory of a central-leftist coalition led by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Olmert supported what has been announced by Abbas — that Israel and Palestine only need two months in order to reach an agreement. Thus, should this coalition win, a historic breakthrough and peace are likely to be achieved.

This scenario is unlikely to play out. First, Palestinians will only achieve from any negotiations — whether with Netanyahu or Olmert, or even the leader of Meretz — what is actually achievable for them and what is commensurate with their strength on the ground.

In the event that they receive better offers, for one reason or another, things will not be the same or even become worse upon implementation. This is especially true, given the ongoing poor Palestinian management of the conflict with the Israeli occupation.

Second, those who pin their hopes on the failure of others will inevitably lose; for the others will be keen to look after their own interests and achieve their goals, not the goals of those who bet on their loss.

Third, there is faint possibility that Netanyahu and his ultra-extremist party will fall.

Fourth, if we assume that Netanyahu does fall and Olmert is able to clear himself of charges made by the Israeli public prosecution, Olmert will remain subjected to Israeli preconditions towards Palestine, which Abbas or any other Palestinian leader will never accept, no matter how moderate he is. Should Olmert or any one else try to disregard these reservations, they will definitely fail, as was the case of Olmert previously.

Kadima Party head Tzipi Livni, who is seen as a competent leader despite the fact that she previously declared that she has used sex and is willing to resort to sexual activities to serve Israel, believes that the offer that was made by Olmert to Abbas cannot be fulfilled.

Indeed, this is especially true at the moment in light of deepening Palestinian division that is inclined towards secession. This is not to mention that the Netanyahu government has expended Israeli occupation and its settlements, and has further Judaized Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, Arabs are preoccupied with the changes sweeping the region amidst Israel’s adamant refusal to sign a settlement agreement, describing the region as shifting sands with nothing stable within it, be it the people, the countries or their rulers.

In light of these developments, the Palestinian leadership took the first step and distributed a draft resolution to United Nations General Assembly members without setting an exact date for it to be put to a vote.

The vote will either take place on Nov. 15 — which marks the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence — or on Nov. 29 — which marks the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People and the partition of Palestine. This indicates that the Palestinian leadership is still confused and hesitant, as demonstrated by the [statehood] application that was submitted last year to the UN Security Council.

The leadership wasted an entire year waiting for the unknown. The application did not receive the requisite support to go to a vote. However, in any case the US would have exercised its veto right to block the vote. The project was not submitted to the General Assembly. Thus, an entire year has passed without achieving a state of any kind, without resistance or negotiations, while Israel carried on with its expansionist and racist settlement plans.

Yet, the leadership remains reluctant and uses its bid before the UN as a tactic, rather than a strategy. It did not even develop a strategy to face the potential consequences of a non-member observer state.

Moreover, the major problem lies in the fact that the leadership is using its bid [for UN observer status] to pressure for the resumption of negotiations. In the event that it managed to become a non-member state, the Palestinian leadership will return to negotiations without setting conditions for such talks, which would undermine the meaning of an observer state and turn it into something harmful.  

In the event Palestine becomes an observer state in the face of unequivocal Israeli and US opposition — and a strong possibility of US and Israeli sanctions — things will further deteriorate and settlements will continue regardless of negotiations. Should this happen, negotiations will be resumed or they will result in a long-interim solution with several stages, as has been the case for the past 20 years.

The Palestinian leadership is also hoping that even if Obama is opposed to Palestine achieving the status of observer state, Obama will not cut off US aid or shut the organization’s office, as the Israeli security apparatus advised the American administration not to take severe measures against the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Israel believes that establishing Palestine as a non-member observer state is a mere symbolic measure that will not make any major difference on the ground. This is not to mention that tight measures are likely to worsen the political situation and lead to the deterioration of the PA, thus paving the way for the emergence of other options that could play out against Israel and in favor of the Palestinians.

However, it must be noted that Obama does not have free rein, as Congress — which remains dominated by Republicans — supports Israel.

It is deeply disturbing that when the PA considered going to the United States, it did not take into consideration the consequences of its actions. It is either reassured that measures taken against it will not go far, or it is certain that Arab countries will back it, despite the fact that past experiences proved otherwise. Perhaps the Palestinian leadership will wait and give the American president another chance during his second term.

There has been growing talk about the resignation of the PA president, and a request for international protection or guardianship of the observer state. However, the rumors about dissolving the PA and the president’s resignation have been circulating for a long time, without any actual change.

The solution lies in an all-inclusive dialogue, including all forces inside and outside the country in order to review past experiences and develop strategies designed to achieve national goals. The dialogue must produce a solution that will diverge from the Oslo Accords, embarking on the path of an interim transitional leadership that includes the various components of the Palestinian political spectrum.

Found in: us, statehood, palestinian, mahmoud abbas

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