Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad are quite unpopular with the Palestinian people although significantly, they are very popular with the Israeli and the U.S. government. Why? Because in return for large amounts of donor cash, Fayyad and Abbas silence opposition and help maintain the siege on Gaza. Also, neither one has any electoral legitimacy at this stage because the U.S. has made it very clear that Palestinian elections are unacceptable in that they might result in a leader who has not been pre-approved by the U.S. or Israel.
On that note, here’s an excellent, albeit depressing, commentary by Tony Karon predicting that as is often the case, the Palestinian leadership may end up being their own worst enemy, thereby playing right into the hands of Benjamin Netanyahu:
Israel’s government currently lacks a credible plan for getting it out of a diplomatic tight spot if the Palestinians go ahead with a plan to seek U.N. recognition of a state in September. But don’t bet against the Palestinian leadership letting the Israelis off the hook as a result of their own divisions over whether to go the U.N. route.
It’s difficult to convince most U.N. member states that recognizing Palestinian sovereignty in territories occupied by Israel in 1967 somehow erodes Israel’s legitimacy, which was incontrovertibly established by its own recognition as a U.N. member state in 1949. That’s because neither the U.N. — or even the U.S. — recognizes Israeli sovereignty over the territories occupied by Israel in 1967 (in this case, the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem). So recognition of Palestinian statehood on the 1967 lines does not delegitimize Israel, as such; it simply extends the international community’s longstanding rejection of Israel’s continued occupation of those territories to a recognition of Palestinian sovereignty over them. And that would mean that for Israel to have its claim to any of those territories recognized, it would require the consent of a sovereign Palestinian entity — presumably established through a quid-pro-quo negotiation.
The problem with centering the Israeli case against a U.N. vote in favor of Palestinian statehood on this “delegitimization” argument is that it fails to address international impatience to see the conflict solved on the basis of a Palestinian state created alongside Israel, based on the 1967 borders with agreed land swaps and with its capital in East Jerusalem. To dissuade other countries from supporting a U.N. vote, the Israelis would have to show that negotiation with the Netanyahu government offers a credible route to such an outcome. And that’s difficult to show, of course, because Netanyahu has thus far declined to negotiate on those terms.
Haaretz reported last that Palestinian leaders are sharply divided over whether to go ahead with the plan: While Abbas is said to favor the move, the report named Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad, former negotiator Ahmed Qureia and former PLO U.N. envoy Nasser al-Kidwa as among a group of senior officials strongly opposed.
Fayyad, an independent, is loathed by Hamas and is not popular even in Fatah; he was appointed, largely at the behest of the United States as part of a program to bypass the elected structures of Palestinian government, after Hamas was voted in as the ruling party in the Palestinian Legislative Council in 2006. Fayyad was a key figure in a plan to isolate Gaza and build up an authoritarian development-oriented regime in the West Bank as an alternative. Even today, he owes his place in the Palestinian power structure less to any popular support base than on the favor he enjoys among the donors on which the PA depends.
By “donors on which the PA depends,” Karon is of course talking about the U.S. And there’s the irony; the U.S. wants to keep the often-repressive, unelected, unpopular, undemocratic Palestinian government in power because essentially, while they do a lot of huffing and puffing, they never really take that next step of blowing the house down. As a result, the status quo can remain largely intact- the settlements continue unabated, the siege and economic strangulation of Gaza continues and every so often the U.S. (with the Quartet) can use the Palestinian Authority as a prop in that
farce occasion that has come to be known as the Peace Process.
I know that sounds harsh, but given that Abbas has been playing up the threat of the UN resolution for months, the idea that he would back down because Washington is upset, is truly pathetic. If Abbas were to back down I don’t really know how he could keep the lid on the pent up anger and frustration of Palestinians living in both the West Bank and Gaza. Every once in a while, the PA is going to have to follow through on some of its diplomatic threats, if only to show the world that they have what it takes to sit at the big boy table with the Israelis and the U.S. Is that fair or just? Of course not, but there is nothing fair or just about anything having to do with the U.S.-mediated peace process.