Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meets with the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem 28 August 2007. (Omar Rashidi/MaanImages/POOL)
Over the past two months a coalition has formed around Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in an attempt to bolster his rule. Desperate to maintain his hold on power, Abbas has chosen to forgo national unity and rely on support from the US and Israel to tighten his hold on the West Bank and target Gaza. Abbas and his benefactors have made it clear to the residents of Gaza that only by abandoning Hamas will the siege be lifted. In the interim, any deaths or starvation, while regrettable, are the requisite price to maintain Abbas’ presidency and the position of his cronies. In pursuing this course, he and his appointed Prime Minister Salam Fayyad have tied their fate to American and Israeli officials in the mistaken belief that they will deliver an independent Palestinian state. In doing so, Abbas and Fayyad ignore the personal, professional, and ideological relationships uniting these officials, which, contrary to their public statements, serve to undermine Palestinian aspirations. The result of this delusional strategy will be a cage disguised as a country.
Five years ago, as the second intifada spiraled out of control in the spring of 2002, President Bush asked his then National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice what was the “fundamental problem” preventing the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. According to the New York Times her answer was “Yasser Arafat.” Rice explained, “When you think about the way people had thought about the Middle East, it was just about land.” Her decision led to the Bush administration’s sidelining of Arafat, the emergence of Abbas, as well as their reliance on Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to end the conflict through force rather than negotiations. These policies have had a devastating impact on Palestinian society, with an immeasurable cost in human life, property and infrastructure.
During the 2000 presidential campaign, Rice was portrayed by the Bush campaign and the mainstream American media as one of Bush’s foreign policy tutors and advisers. However, she is a former Soviet specialist and by her own admission had little knowledge (or interest) in the history or politics of the Middle East. What then was the source of her keen analysis of the conflict? Rice’s key adviser for Middle East affairs on the National Security Council was neo-conservative American Likudnik Elliot Abrams. An avowed opponent of the “land for peace” formula which would be at the center of any negotiation between Israel and the Palestinians, Abrams is an infamous figure in Washington due to his role in the Iran-Contra affair. As Kathleen Christison recently detailed in Counterpunch, Abrams has actively worked to subvert the Palestinian national unity government and advocated a “hard coup” against Hamas. This included coordinating with like-minded allies in the State Department to pervert international law and human rights by pressuring the United Nations to impose sanctions on the occupied, not the occupier, in the wake of Hamas’ election victory.
Rice’s more recent confidant is Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. In a fawning New York Times Magazine cover story profile of Livni last month, Rice described her as a “friend” and a “woman of peace.” A trained lawyer and former Mossad agent, Livni’s meteoric rise in Israeli politics was hastened by Sharon. According to the Times, Rice and Livni share “the same intensity and work ethic, the same difficulty in thinking beyond a doctrine once it has been formed, the same disciplined intelligence that sometimes appears to lack the subtlety of wisdom and the same penchant for talking about ‘values’ and what is ‘right’ ” — and then, of course, doing the exact opposite. One example of this approach was Livni’s boast that through a meeting with Rice she directly influenced Bush’s 14 April 2004 statement undercutting the right of return for Palestinian refugees. She claimed “I did the right thing — and so did Bush.”
Hoping to salvage her term as Secretary of State, Rice has been publicly preparing for a renewed peace effort for some time. In March, the Washington Post reported that she finally decided to review the peace efforts of previous administrations. According to Time Magazine, this also included requesting the notes of Jordanian diplomats from the ill-fated 2000 Camp David Summit, which the Bush administration had previously disparaged. Rice’s belated efforts were supposed to coincide with a resurrected Arab League peace initiative, whose proposal was based on existing UN resolutions and was again rejected by Israel for the second time in five years. Attempting to prop up Abbas, President Bush initially called for a regional summit to be held in November. To galvanize support for this initiative, Rice paid yet another high profile visit to the region accompanied by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. In addition, Washington announced an increase in military aid to Israel over the next ten years. Yet, in spite of the attention and incentives, Bush’s summit has since been downgraded to a “meeting,” and one expects soon it will be further demoted to a “discussion.” Meanwhile, as part of Rice’s inane “confidence building measures,” a process borrowed from the Oslo period, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Abbas meet regularly, supposedly to finalize yet another “declaration of principles.” However, adamant denials from Olmert’s office inevitably follow each highly placed leak about the substance of the negotiations.
In contrast, ominous signs have appeared in the Arab and Israeli press that have not elicited denials. For several weeks the Palestinian Authority (PA) leadership has claimed that early elections would be needed to break the deadlock between Fatah and Hamas, a move the latter rejected as unconstitutional. However, Fayyad recently told reporters that new elections were “not feasible” at this time. Moreover, he and other officials have suggested that Hamas will be shut out from any new elections unless they accept existing agreements. Abbas even briefly flirted with the notion of reviving the Palestine National Council, without including Hamas of course, and sought the support of moribund leftists. Desperate for relevancy, several, like Nayef Hawatmeh of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, were eager to comply. Predictably this effort has also stalled. Meanwhile, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Abbas was requesting American weaponry, including new armored cars for “crowd dispersal,” replacing those destroyed by the Israelis during the early part of the second intifada. In addition, Washington has also agreed to train Abbas’ presidential guard. Concurrently, American Lt. General Keith Dayton continues training security personnel loyal to Fatah in Jericho, and a new training base may be created in Bethlehem. It would appear that Abbas and his backers are intent on a showdown with Hamas, not negotiations.
To prepare the ground for this confrontation, the PA leadership has embraced the siege of Gaza. This strategy reached a new nadir when Ambassador Riyad Mansour of the Palestinian Observer Mission to the UN recently blocked an attempt by Qatar and Indonesia to obtain a Security Council resolution expressing concern over a pending humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Mansour explained in a prepared statement that “It is unacceptable for anyone, including friends, to act on our behalf without our knowledge, without consulting us.” When asked why the Palestinians did not coordinate with its “friends” to reintroduce the resolution, he answered that there was “no specific need” for one at this time, in spite of the dire warnings from multiple international aid organizations to the contrary. The diplomatic corps, which operates from the former Palestine Liberation Organization missions around the globe, purportedly represents the Palestinian people, but their recent actions and rhetoric culminating in the disgraceful charade perpetrated at the UN demonstrates where their loyalties truly lie.
Moreover, Mansour’s statement of “no specific need” is as shockingly inaccurate as it is despicable. Gaza is one of the most densely populated places in the world, with nearly 1.5 million Palestinians — roughly 80 percent of them refugees — crowded into a mere 360 square kilometers. With unemployment of 40 percent and underemployment far higher, the UN estimates that over 60 percent of Palestinians live below its “poverty line” of less that two dollars a day. Gaza has no functioning sea or airport facilities and all human and commercial traffic flows through Israeli-controlled (and sealed) border crossings, rendering it totally isolated. Due to the border closures, there are constant shortages of medical and food supplies, and now fuel supplies are also being used as a weapon, forcing electricity to be shut off across the strip for hours and sometimes days at a time. These actions represent a continuation of the siege and sanctions policy promoted by Abrams. As Dov Weissglas, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, explained the goal is to “put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.” By adopting this strategy as their own, Abbas and Fayyad have demonstrated they are beyond redemption.
With each passing day the depth of the PA leadership’s degeneracy is revealed. Their corruption and ineptitude, so blatant and glaring over the past 13 years, has now been supplemented by a cynicism and sadism directed toward their own people with the support and encouragement of the US, Israel, the European Union, and the international community. This leadership, which once proclaimed “revolution until victory,” long ago abandoned that mantra and chose to turn rebellion into money. They have shamelessly ignored the needs and will of the Palestinian people and led them to the brink of ruin. Only by abandoning this leadership can Palestinians hope to reverse this course and ensure that they determine their own future. The choice has never been starker or more certain.
Osamah Khalil is a Palestinian-American doctoral candidate in US and Middle East History at the University of California, Berkeley, focusing on US foreign policy in the Middle East. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.