If Abbas Quits, Are Peace Talks Doomed?

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Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, has announced he will not run for reelection this coming January. The announcement comes on the heels of a shakeup in the Israel-Palestine peace process. As the Wire previously covered, a number of commentators feared that missteps by the Obama administration, including failure to be insufficiently firm with Israel about halting settlements, would leave Abbas with little Palestinian support. Abbas, too, had already threatened to leave office should the Israelis not agree to a settlement freeze.

So what does this new development mean for the peace process, and for the Obama administration?

  • Not Looking Good  Politico's Ben Smith comments on remarks by National Security Adviser James Jones, who called the Israel-Palestine situation the "epicenter" of a number of policy problems, and said he hoped to see progress in the "near future." Smith says Abbas's latest move "may a threat or an attempt at getting some leverage, but it's a mark of the trouble currently at the 'epicenter,' and how far off that near future is now looking."
  • What Happens if Abbas is Serious  Foreign Policy's Mark Lynch, writing last week when Abbas had already threatened to leave the presidency, suggests a few ways in which Abbas's departure could be a good thing. First, he says, Abbas leaving "would shake up the comfortable status quo of what passes for the peace process." It could also "create an opening at last for the real renewal of Fatah and PA leadership," and even, by allowing "the intense current stalemate" to "deflate a bit ... allow for a face-saving compromise" that could lead to the "reunification of the West Bank and Gaza." Lynch's final observation is that Abbas "deciding not to run for re-election would be an exceedingly rare instance of an Arab leader opting to step down from the power of his own volition." Lynch thinks it would be "shocking and innovative." That said, he doesn't actually think Abbas is serious.
  • Obama Fails  One with a less optimistic outlook is Robert Dreyfuss at The Nation. Sure, he writes, Abbas might not be serious, but that's not the point:
[B]y refusing to compel Israel to make a real offer to the Palestinians, the United States has once again shafted Palestinian moderates like Abbas, who can't credibly claim to have won anything for their constituents. In so doing, Obama is fueling the extremists, bomb-makers, and rocket launchers in Hamas, a fundamentalist, Muslim Brotherhood-founded movement that wants no compromise.
  • What Palestinians and Arabs Think  Mark Lynch, upon learning of Abbas's announcement, also began looking at the opinions of Palestinians. Here's his summary of their perspective:
Most of the Palestinian and Arab commentary I've seen since his announcement falls into three basic trends: the first thinks he's bluffing, attempting to leverage his weakness into pressure on the U.S. and Israel; the second thinks it's irrelevant, because the elections will not actually be held in January; and the third is cheering his departure, and hoping that it will lead to a collective admission that the PA's strategy has failed. The three perspectives are obviously not mutually exclusive. When I asked leading Palestinian academic Salim Tamari yesterday about the impact it would have on the peace process, he just looked at me quizically and said "what peace process?"

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.