By Ramzy Baroud
This time, we are told, it is different and that Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas is absolutely serious about his decision to absolve his leadership from all previous agreements signed with Israel and the US. But, of course, this time is not different and Abbas is not serious.
“The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the state of Palestine are absolved… of all the agreements and understandings with the American and Israeli governments… including the security ones,” Abbas declared at an emergency meeting of his leadership held in Ramallah last week.
Unsurprisingly, there were no massive demonstrations reported in the Occupied Territories in support of Abbas’ decision. Aside from a few loyalists in the PA-controlled media, it seemed as if the man did not utter a word, let alone cancel all agreements that justified the very existence of his authority over the course of nearly 30 years.
The demonstrable truth is that Abbas ceased to matter to Palestinians a long time ago. However, for Israel, he matters greatly because his PA has served as an additional security buffer between occupied Palestinians and the occupation army. Thanks to their “security coordination,” Israel was allowed to fortify its occupation in peace.
Palestinians long ago lost faith in Abbas, as proved by one public opinion poll after another. This is not a sudden occurrence, but the accumulation of decades of failure and disappointments. Abbas’ commitment to the Oslo Accords led to absolutely nothing, except for the creation of a massive and utterly corrupt security apparatus that largely exists to “coordinate” the subjugation of Palestinians with their Israeli oppressors.
Since his advent to power in 2005, Abbas and his faithful followers within the Fatah party have become obsessed with their enmity; not with Israel and the US, but with Abbas’ Palestinian rivals within Fatah itself — Mohammed Dahlan, etc. — and, to a greater extent, with Hamas in Gaza.
Israel featured in Abbas’ many speeches in Ramallah and at the UN General Assembly in New York — but, despite all the rhetoric, little or no action ever followed. Concurrently, Israeli soldiers and illegal Jewish settlers were unhindered as they carried on with their systematic abuse of Palestinians.
Not once did Abbas’ ever-growing security forces (which are estimated to be 80,000 strong) move to block the path of an Israeli bulldozer demolishing a Palestinian home or uprooting an ancient olive grove in the West Bank. Nor did they prevent the arrest of any anti-Israeli occupation activists. Often, they carried out the arrests themselves. Even as Israel was pounding Gaza with massive bombs and white phosphorus, Abbas continued dishing out insults at his Palestinian enemies. He berated Gaza’s armed resistance, yet offered no meaningful alternative.
But, if Abbas managed to co-exist under these humiliating conditions for so long, why has he decided to cancel the agreements now? To answer this, first let us look at the political context of his decision.
In February 2015, Abbas threatened to sever security ties with Israel as a response to its decision to withhold millions of dollars of Palestinian tax revenues, which Tel Aviv obtains on behalf of the PA. Similar threats were made in July 2017 in response to Israel’s illegal measures around the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem; in September 2018, when the US unilaterally recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel; and yet again in July 2019, when Israel demolished Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem. The most recent episode — Abbas’ January threat to dissolve the PA — was in response to the announcement of the Trump White House’s so-called peace plan. These are only the most notable threats that registered in the media. In reality, Abbas has waged his “war” on Israel in the form of endless threats that were always met with disdain in Tel Aviv.
The difference this time is that Abbas has never experienced this degree of abandonment and political vulnerability. Discarded by the Americans and disowned by the Israelis, Abbas’ credibility is at an all-time low. More importantly, the Palestinian people have long since abandoned any illusions that the path of liberation would go through Abbas’ office in Ramallah.
Overwhelmed by such odds, Abbas decided to conduct what is likely to be his final political act. What happens next matters little because, at this stage, the 84-year-old Palestinian leader has nothing to lose.
Canceling the Palestinian commitment to the agreements will likely translate into little on the ground, considering that Israel and the US have already reneged on them. The Oslo Accords were meant to be relevant up to a point (1999), when the final status negotiations were meant to take place as the last step toward the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. Jerusalem, like the rights of Palestinian refugees, was meant to be resolved then, not be completely “taken off the table” two decades later. No territorial swap, let alone annexation, was to be permitted without a bilateral agreement between the parties.
Only two components of these agreements survived Israel’s numerous violations: The security coordination and the donors’ money, which kept the PA and its massive — but useless — army in operation. Now that the US has withheld all funds to Abbas’ PA and Israel’s new national unity government has agreed, in principle, to annex much of the West Bank, Abbas is left with nothing.
By canceling all agreements, Abbas and his supporters are hoping that alarm bells will sound in Washington and Tel Aviv, especially since the halting of the security coordination could prove costly to the safety of Israel’s Jewish settlers.
If Abbas was serious in his announcement, he would have articulated a clear new Palestinian political agenda that is predicated on unity — but a true Palestinian strategy was never the PA leader’s ultimate goal. What Abbas is hoping to achieve with his latest theatrics is the establishment of a new political game; one that is based on political ambiguity, so that he is not entirely abandoned by his Western backers or finally shunned by his own people.