Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Abbas: Either Fight or Negotiate! | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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No one ever tells the whole truth, even in simple cases such as negotiations, and here is a story to illustrate that. Of all the American Presidents, Barack Obama is actually the most enthusiastic to establish a Palestinian state and liberate the West Bank and Gaza. This is something that the Arabs and their supporters have failed to achieve through war, bombings, demonstrations or zealous speeches over the past 40 years. It is natural to regard negotiations as an alternative to defeat, and even the “Oslo Accords” that were criticized by many achieved more than empty rhetoric. It’s thanks to those negotiations that [late Palestinian President] Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Liberation Organization [PLO] returned home from exile in Tunisia, together with over 100,000 Palestinians, to live in the West Bank and Gaza rather than the Tunisian town of Hammamet, or the Beirut district of al-Fakhani. They returned to Palestine; and as a result of this the Israeli process of capturing [Palestinian] land and expelling its Palestinian citizens came to an end.

Today, Arafat’s successor has been in a state of limbo ever since Obama sent him his first message immediately after he assumed power, nearly one and a half years ago; inviting him to negotiate. Although Abbas has always negotiated with the Israelis directly, he decided this time to add a new condition; aimed at stopping settlement construction. Though his intentions were correct, his condition served the interests of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who does not wish to enter into negotiations, and is searching for an excuse to evade Obama’s pressure. Therefore as a result of this, the Palestinian leadership missed out on the most important 18 months [of Obama’s presidential term].

What people may not know is that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is also subject to intense Arab pressure warning him against direct negotiations, despite the fact that the Arabs were silent about this issue, and about settlement construction, during the Arafat era. The difference is that Arafat was doing what he wanted in his own personal style, which is totally different from Abbas’s conduct, which is typically very sincere in a region that is famous for its political deception. Although Abbas respected these Arab reservations, he also wasted Obama’s precious time, all the while [Israeli] settlement construction continued. Therefore the Arabs did not help him politically or domestically. Currently, the Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are surviving on European and US aid, in addition to very little aid from Arab countries. In fact, unfortunately what the Arabs spend on Lebanon is much more than they spend on the Palestinian people. This is not because I regret roads being dug or hospitals being built in Lebanon, but the priority is clear, for the Palestinians are more in need of this, and their condition is more severe.

Abbas is in a strange situation. He wants the support of the West, but he prefers to listen to the Arabs! This is why nothing is happened, whether this is a move towards peace or war. Obama, who is fed up with Abbas, send him a confidential message, and the majority of this message’s contents were leaked. In the message, Obama pledged to do his utmost to end Israeli settlement construction, he also stressed that settlement building during his term of office has decreased because he has put pressure on Netanyahu. He also provided another incentive for Abbas, confirming that he will strongly support the establishment of a Palestinian State. He promised Abbas that he will pressure the Israelis to implement measures to improve the living the daily living conditions of the Palestinian people. However Obama brandished the stick [rather than the carrot] in the last line of this message, threatening to withdraw his support for the Palestinian project should Abbas decline to enter into negotiations.

This is the story, and the entire decision now rests upon President Mahmoud Abbas, and so he must make this historic decision after wasting so much time due to his hesitation and excessive cautions, otherwise he will not win the [support of] the West or the Arabs. He has to choose either to negotiate or to fight, he cannot choose to sit [and do nothing] as if he were any other Arab leader in his presidential palace. Although the situation is difficult today, it is better – as a whole – than the situation under Yasser Arafat, as the regional situation helps Abbas, due to the presence of Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda and Ahmadinejad’s Iran. In order to fight these two enemies, the West is prepared to support the Palestinians and satisfy the demands of the vast majority of Arabs. However this will not happen if there is more time wasting. Over the past three months, Abbas has seen how Hamas has abandoned everything in order to meet third-class US officials, announcing it’s willingness to compromise on the military option and its acceptance of the 1967 borders.

Finally, I’d like to say to Abbas what former Palestinian President Yasser Arafat said to our colleague Saad al-Sillawi, whilst he was interviewing him. Arafat noticed that al-Sillawi wasn’t paying attention to one of his answers, and so he shouted “Wake up, Saad, the Zionists have taken Jerusalem!” So I would like to say to Abbas “Wake up, either fight of negotiate!”