Monday, January 4, 2010

For the first time in his political career, Mahmoud Abbas stands resolute.

From the time Mahmoud Abbas was elected as President of the Palestinian National Authority on January 15, 2005, even though he had sworn to serve the Palestinian people and to advance, protect, and defend their interests, he had acted as if he were a secret Israeli agent striving to preserve and protect Israel’s interests. It appeared as if he listened attentively to the wishes and directives from Israel, and awaited orders from the White House, and in each instance complied faithfully, and without complaints. He could be summoned by American Presidents, as President Obama in fact did in September 2009, and came to the Plaza hotel in New York obsequiously, looking quite sullen, to shake hands with Netanyahu, at the “tripartite summit”.

When Israel started the Gaza War, assaulting helpless civilians, bombing houses, schools, mosques and hospitals, and dropped white phosphorus bombs on fleeing civilians, and as world-wide condemnations of Israel poured in, Mr. Abbas shut his mouth and did not criticize Israel for several days. Even the BBC took note of his behavior. In its report on Thursday, 5 November 2009, it commented: “Mr. Abbas has walked a delicate line between appeasing Israeli and US demands that he improve security and participate in peace negotiations, and popular Palestinian pressure for genuine political and economic progress. And he has, in the past year, undermined his already fragile poll ratings with misjudged comments and actions. Even Fatah supporters were angered when Mr. Abbas was slow to condemn the punishing military assault that Israel launched on Gaza in December 2008, and criticized the Hamas rocket fire Israel said it was trying to end.”

On many occasions, and several times during the Gaza War, Mr. Abbas’ words and actions prompted me to stop and think and wonder: Is he the President of the Palestinian people, or is he an agent of the Israeli government, doing its bidding, but paid for his efforts by the United States, in dollars borrowed from China?

But in October, 2009, something strange, startling, and least expected happened to the Middle East peace process restarted by President Obama. In June President Obama had assured Mr. Abbas privately that he would insist that Israel cease from its settlements expansion in the occupied land, and publicly President Obama had even demanded that Israel freeze all its settlement activities as called for by the Road Map to Peace. However, as Secretary of State Mrs. Clinton stood by Netanyahu in Jerusalem in a joint press conference and praised him effusively for agreeing to slow down – but not freeze - Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank, and described Netanyahu’s decision as “unprecedented” and worthy of praise, Mr. Abbas, shocked in Ramallah, opened his eyes and realized that the Obama administration was brazenly taking Israel’s side in the conflict. He felt humiliated and outraged that he had been made to appear like a fool, again. The fact that Mrs. Clinton’s news conference happened only weeks after the tripartite hand shake fiasco at the Plaza hotel on September 22, 2009, only made his anger and pain worse. Then came the White House directed and orchestrated fiasco of the handling of Geneva based U N Human Rights Council’s Goldstone Report on the Gaza War. President Obama put enormous pressure on Abbas to write to the UNHRC asking for a delay in endorsing the report. President Obama’s intention was obviously to shield Israel from the bad publicity and the damage to its image engendered as a result of the vote. But the plan backfired, and Mr. Abbas faced the scorn of almost the entire Muslim world. Mr. Abbas realized that he was duped again with Israel’s and Washington’s connivance.

Embarrassed, shocked, and deeply pained, Mr. Abbas resolved that he can not let either Israel or the White House push him around any more, and that he had to take a firm stand. He announced that he will not participate in peace negotiations until Israel freezes all settlement activities in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as well. He knows that the settlements are illegal, and that the UN resolutions regarding the settlements support him, and that the International Laws regarding occupied lands favor him, and so he has resolved to not budge. It was as if he had decided to take a firm, unwavering stand. And for the first time in his political career, Mahmoud Abbas has stood resolute.

He has even announced, repeatedly, that he will not seek reelection. I guess he has had enough of being pushed around, and pulled with strings like a puppet. I am not surprised at his resolve, and that he is fighting back. After all, even normally docile rats put up a ferocious fight when cornered, don’t they?

But I am astonished that Mr. Abbas did not stand on a stage in Ramallah and say loudly, “Et tu Obama? Then retire Abbas!” I half expected to hear the words gushing from his lips.

Yesh Prabhu, Plainsboro, NJ

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