from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

Palestinian Diplomacy, Lost at Sea

November 16, 2011

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"Palestinians ponder next step in their statehood bid," said the Los Angeles Times. "Palestinians will keep knocking on U.N.’s door," said Reuters.

They will go to the Security Council; or they’ll go to the Security Council only if they’ll win; even if they won’t win; now, or maybe later; then to the General Assembly, or maybe not, after all. Palestinian "diplomacy" is now a series of contradictions that display little more than confusion. In this context it is not at all surprising to see renewed negotiations between Fatah and Hamas.

PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has refused to negotiate with Israel for nearly three years now. He thought he had an ace up his sleeve going to the UN instead, but that option has not panned out. American opposition and the lack of enthusiasm elsewhere (Europe, for example) doomed the effort in the Security Council because the PLO could not round up the nine votes needed. Initially, going to the General Assembly to raise the PLO’s status to "non-member state" observer could have been claimed as a real victory, but the Palestinian diplomatic mismanagement ruined that. They talked it down instead of up, devaluing the only success available to them and finally (for now, anyway) abandoning this path. The taste of victory at UNESCO was also bitter, for the Palestinians were quickly told--by friendly countries and by the UN system as well, which wants American dollars to keep flowing--not to try that again in any other UN agency.

So, having refused negotiations and now turned victory into defeat in the UN, Abbas is turning to yet another option: "unity" talks with Hamas. These have been on again and off again for about a year, with pious speeches and oaths of unity by the dozen but never any progress. It is possible that Abbas will arrange to sign something this time, at the cost of the resignation of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. That would be another self-inflicted Palestinian wound, for the "unity" with Hamas will never last. The Hamas and Fatah militants, or perhaps it is more accurate to say the Hamas ideologues and terrorists and the Fatah office-holders, hate each other. And the loss of Fayyad will cost the PA plenty, for he is the only Palestinian official whom donors in Europe, the United States, and the Arab oil producing countries trust. Moreover, many of the Europeans and American officials who are most fervently pressing Israel for negotiations will pipe down a bit when the Palestinians announce that Hamas is now part of their government.

Abbas has tried all the options with which he is familiar. He is not the man of the future, and may be sincere this time when he says he wants to retire. Reports suggests that he will not have to live on a meager pension, and life will perhaps be much better if he can shift the burdens of office--actually, three offices, counting his jobs as Fatah chairman, PLO chairman, and PA president--to someone younger. Abbas does not relish having to explain to Palestinians that the world will not deliver a state on a silver platter, and that negotiations with Israel will require painful compromises. It seems right now that with the UN gambit in a shambles a deal with Hamas may be struck. That will most likely collapse in six months, but perhaps he can keep it afloat for twelve or fifteen and see if a new American president or a re-elected Barack Obama will shake things up. No one around him seems to have a better idea.

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