Mahmoud Abbas: His Finest Hour – OpEd


Mahmoud Abbas did not buckle. He stayed the course. The president of Palestine brushed aside a threatened US veto and heated Israeli objections, instead asking the United Nations to recognize a state for his people. In the Palestinians’ long quest for statehood it was a moment of history. Dire warnings that the UN bid could trigger Congressional sanctions and Israeli reprisals apparently only made Abbas more resolved. In the end, he was there at the UN podium, making an impassioned plea and waving a copy of the document that will in the near future be put to a vote in the Security Council.

The Obama administration has vowed to veto the bid in the name of an imaginary peace process, or bribe, bully and cajole enough council members to vote against or abstain. But if the US does decide to defy most of mankind by casting its veto, this would hurt the US and Israel far more than it would hurt Palestine, definitively disqualifying Washington from maintaining its monopoly stranglehold on any peace process — which, since US objectives are indistinguishable from Israeli objectives, could only be to Palestine’s advantage. Only 12 months ago, President Barack Obama said he wanted the UN to be welcoming Palestine as its newest member this year. Twelve months later, the Palestinians indeed asked that a state of their own be recognized by the world body. The irony, however, is that while Obama just about got what he wanted, he is now in the unenviable position of leading the opposition to something he actually supported. As such, the UN initiative is a win-win proposition for Palestine.

On Friday, Abbas answered the question of whether Palestine will declare independence at the UN. To many in the Arab world, the question now is whether the US will declare its independence at the world body.

After Abbas’ speech the Quartet said that they wanted the two sides to return to talks within a month and set out a timetable for a peace deal by the end of 2012. But from Oslo to Wye to Bush to Obama, previous proposed timetables for negotiations have come and gone, while allowing Israel to triple the number of its settlers in the occupied territories to a colossal 600,000. The UN bid makes a diplomatic break with that model. And even if the Palestinians were to agree to the Quartet plan — the same as if they were to resume direct talks with Israel — the two routes would complement, not jar with, the UN bid.

The bid offers a political alternative to US-led negotiations skewed in Israel’s favor. It strengthens the Palestinian hand diplomatically and politically. Not going to the UN would have denied Palestinians their most basic national rights at the very moment the Middle East is seeing its peoples cast aside dictators in the name of freedom.

We are glad Abbas did not blink and did not bluff, for had he not gone to the UN, he would have given up what little leverage he has over Tel Aviv and Washington. Rarely have the Palestinians got the US and Israel so concerned on the diplomatic front. It was his finest hour. It is an opportunity that might not come again and hopefully, will not be lost. Abbas has the two on the ropes; let them not slip away.

What we want is a two-state solution, not a solution dictated by two states – Israel and the US.

Arab News

Arab News is Saudi Arabia's first English-language newspaper. It was founded in 1975 by Hisham and Mohammed Ali Hafiz. Today, it is one of 29 publications produced by Saudi Research & Publishing Company (SRPC), a subsidiary of Saudi Research & Marketing Group (SRMG).

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