The Blog

Abbas Threatens Something or Other

12:00 AM, Apr 16, 2012 • By ELLIOTT ABRAMS
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

The chairman of the PLO, Mahmoud Abbas (who is also president of the Palestinian Authority), has drafted a letter to Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for delivery this week.  What is apparently the current state of the draft is published by Times of Israel, a terrific new web site about the Middle East.

This missive is unlikely to advance the cause of peace. What Abbas calls his "historic Peace Proposal" includes, for example, these sentences:

"Security will be guaranteed by a third party accepted by both, to be deployed on the Palestinian side.  Jerusalem will serve as a capital of two States. East Jerusalem capital of Palestine. West Jerusalem capital of Israel. Jerusalem as an open city can be the symbol of peace."

Ah, well. Here it seems Abbas is abandoning hope of being able to maintain security in his new state. But surely he knows that Israel has always opposed the presence of third forces that will, as they have in southern Lebanon, never fight terror and will get in the way of Israeli forces trying to do so. And as for Jerusalem, is he seriously proposing that the 1967 line be reestablished, so that Israel is in "West Jerusalem" and "Palestine" controls the Old City? And how can there possibly be an "open city" until Palestinians have achieved the security goal set out for them in the Roadmap (on which Abbas relies in his letter)?

·Palestinians declare an unequivocal end to violence and terrorism and undertake visible efforts on the ground to arrest, disrupt, and restrain individuals and groups conducting and planning violent attacks on Israelis anywhere.

·Rebuilt and refocused Palestinian Authority security apparatus begins sustained, targeted, and effective operations aimed at confronting all those engaged in terror and dismantlement of terrorist capabilities and infrastructure. This includes commencing confiscation of illegal weapons and consolidation of security authority, free of association with terror and corruption.

With Hamas in control of Gaza and certainly present in the West Bank, just how would an "open city" work? How would Israel prevent terrorists from entering it if there is no border between Israel and the open city of Jerusalem?

The Abbas draft goes on to blame Israel for Abbas's, and the PA's, current situation:

Twenty years ago, we concluded with Israel an agreement under international auspices which was intended to take the Palestinian people from occupation to independence. Now, as a result of actions taken by successive Israeli governments, the Palestinian National Authority no longer has any authority, and no meaningful jurisdiction in the political, economic, social, territorial and security spheres. In other words, the P.A. lost its reason [sic] d’être.

Under this theory, the loss of Gaza to Hamas, the inability of the PA to hold elections since 2006, the weakness of the Fatah Party—you name it—are all the fault of Israel. This is absurd, but so is Abbas's claim that the PA has "no authority." For example, on April 4, 2012, a Committee to Protect Journalists statement "condemns the Palestinian Authority's recent anti-press actions in which one journalist was detained for a week for reporting on alleged corruption and spying and a second was questioned over a critical article and his posts on social media."

Similarly, last year Human Rights Watch reported this: "Security forces of the Palestinian Authority (PA) have arbitrarily detained scores of West Bank journalists since 2009, and in some cases abused them during interrogation in a manner that amounted to torture. Like other Palestinian victims of abuse by the PA’s security services, these journalists confront a virtual wall of impunity when they try to hold their abusers accountable, leaving the victims feeling vulnerable to further harassment and abuse."

All that sounds like quite an assertion of "authority" and "jurisdiction" to me.

Abbas is in a very difficult corner, to be sure. While the "Arab Spring" is blossoming around him, he cannot hold elections (though his own term and the parliament's both ran out years ago) because Hamas won't allow them in Gaza, and Fatah can't be sure of winning them in the West Bank. He can't win a statehood resolution at the United Nations. He can't negotiate with Israel without demanding a construction freeze in settlements and Jerusalem (and he demands this again in his letter) because President Obama forced him into that position by calling it a precondition for talks.

Abbas can improve life in the West Bank, but seems to fear that would only benefit Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. And, to be fair to Abbas, if 'merely' ensuring that West Bank Palestinians live a better and freer life, with more jobs and fewer Israeli raids, has not been his central objective neither has it been that of the U.S. government.

The Abbas draft ends with this:

Should the Government of Israel refuse to honor these above-referenced obligations, we will seek the full and complete implementation of international law as it pertains to the powers and responsibilities of Israel as occupying power in all of the occupied Palestinian territory. For the Palestinian Authority—now stripped of all meaningful authority—cannot continue to honor agreements while Israel refuses to even acknowledge its commitments. The P.A. is no longer as was agreed and this situation cannot continue.

Come again? That sounds like a threat to dissolve the PA, but the Times of Israel also reports that he resolved not to do that.

"Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared his commitment to a strong Palestinian Authority (PA), rebutting an open letter by former Israeli minister Yossi Beilin that called on him to dissolve the PA. “Dissolving the PA is not so simple,” Abbas told journalists during an official visit to Japan Saturday. “The PA is an achievement and we must not dissolve it but strengthen it.”

So what does Abbas's threat mean? The best guess is that it means he's in a difficult corner and an angry letter seemed like a good idea at the time. For American officials anxiously watching Iran's nuclear program, the death toll in Syria, and the mess in Egypt, the Abbas letter will be just another reminder that the "peace process" is frozen solid.

Recent Blog Posts