Arab Palestinian Authority must cease climbing trees too high to climb down

What made Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas agree to direct talks without any of his preconditions being met?

Palestinian Authority President Abbas agreed to resume direct negotiations with Israel on September 2 in Washington without any of his preconditions being met. Israel has not promised to end construction in the settlements, and the Quartet's statement does not even mention this issue. Contrary to the demand that the Quartet's announcement would constitute the framework for the talks, U.S. Special Envoy George Mitchell was quick to make it clear this is not the way things will be.

One of the leading analysts in the Palestinian media described how Abbas was forced to climb down from his uncompromising stance with a term normally reserved to describe the defeat of the Arab armies during the Six-Day War. Abbas succumbed to Arab-American dictate, the analyst said, despite never having missed a chance to reiterate during the year "there will be no direct negotiations without complete freeze of settlements."

So what made Palestinian Authority President Abbas agree? When Abbas realized that Washington's approach had changed, and that the White House wanted him to enter direct negotiations, he searched for a face-saving option, like the Quartet's declaration.

Israel's steadfast refusal, however, to accept any preconditions in the direct negotiations and concerns at the White House of the impact of more pressure on Prime Minister Netanyahu before Congressional elections in November, resulted in an announcement without teeth.

Another factor in Abbas' decision was the policy of the moderate Arab countries, in particular Egypt and Jordan. They backed him at first on the settlement freeze in return for direct talks. Nevertheless, when Abbas saw Prime Minister Netanyahu welcomed in Amman and Cairo, and the Arab League refusing to impose a ban on direct talks, the only option left for the Arab Palestinian leader was direct confrontation with the U.S. administration. Since Palestinian Authority President Abbas has become totally depended on U.S. economic aid as a leverage to maintain the economic achievements felt throughout the Arab communities of Judea and Samaria Abbas was concerned that the White House would, at some point, stop economic aid.

In spite of opposition at home, Abbas knows that the bottom line is he could survive different opinions but not an end to American economic aid.

The chief Arab Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said on Saturday that if Israel resumes settlement construction, the direct talks will stop and this will probably be what to expect from the Arab Palestinians. Whats unfortunate is that the White House has a golden opportunity to influence the classical Arab Palestinian intransigence to always miss an opportunity, but the White House operating under an overly sympathetic ideology towards Islam cannot bring itself to make the Arab Palestinians cease climbing tall trees from which they are not sure how to climb down.


The town of Ramallah - New cars, beautiful residences, fancy stores and restaurants

If one visits Ramallah, the capital of the Arab Palestinian Authority, the construction boom strikes you across the city, the legislative and political center of the Arab Palestinian Authority in Judea and Samaria (also known as the West Bank).

Just about everywhere, high towers of office and apartment complexes rise above the squalor of old houses, refugee camps, crowded markets and narrow streets of what was once a small town some 10 km north of Jerusalem.

There is money here, plenty of it, and those who have it are not afraid to flaunt it. New cars, beautiful residences, fancy stores and restaurants will startle any outsider arriving here with his head filled by the biased western media about the misery of the “West Bank” by the Israeli so-called “occupation”. The biased and demonized narrative reported daily in the printed and broadcasted media never ever manages to show the high standard of living here in Ramallah, which would put the best neighborhoods of London and Paris to shame.

And there’s the resentment that spill over any conversation with ordinary Arab Palestinians fed a diet of half-truths and endless lies by their leaders. Sitting and talking to average everyday Arab Palestinians is an invitation to hear their bitterness about Arab leaders, and of their experience with discrimination and violence in places such as Lebanon and Kuwait. They speak of how the Arab Palestinian leadership resembles Ali Baba and his 40 thieves, robbing the people of the money that has poured in as aid from the West. America alone has donated 2.9 Billion dollars since the signing of the Oslo agreement in 1993-4 to the leaders of the Arab Palestinian Authority, little of that has filtered down to the Arab Palestinian residents.

The term limit of the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the legislative assembly has expired, and no new elections are scheduled to provide Palestinians with any say on how they are being governed. In effect, those in authority have no Democratic mandate, and their fear that Hamas will likely win an election whenever held underscores the contempt of ordinary Palestinians for Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, and the men around him.

There is irony in the fact that there are two Arab Palestinian entities between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.  If it were not for the State of Israel in the middle, the war of words between these two entities would become a bloody shootout between the Iranian proxy in Gaza and mafia dons receiving protection money from the West in the West Bank.  This reality created and perpetuated by the Arab Palestinians themselves somehow bears little if any resemblance to the perception of how the Arab Palestinians are projected and branded throughout the world.


President Obama has abandoned the Middle East

After dozens of years of intensive American activity in our region – pressures, schemes, deals, mediation, diplomacy, threats, concessions, doctrines – the current US President, Barack Obama, is slowly but making America disappear from the Middle Eastern landscape creating a strategic power vacuum.

Arab regimes hated former President George W. Bush, but they also feared him and were cautious. President Obama simply doesn’t exist. Syria allows itself to disregard the US; the same is true for Iran, al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Erdogan of Turkey, and others. The Turkish flotilla affair is an example of this. Obama should have immediately sent his secretary of state to Ankara and to Jerusalem in order to end the matter quickly, yet nobody arrived from the US, and the region suffered great damage.

Once upon a time, moderate Egyptians, Saudis, Moroccans, Jordanians, and Palestinians would rush to Washington to coordinate positions, receive instructions, and engage in consultations. Today they no longer bother to do it, because it’s a waste of time. They have a feeling that the young president fails to understand what they’re facing, so what’s the point?

Everyone has a feeling that President Obama is talking but not acting let alone shooting. Benjamin Disraeli once said: “Never argue…only give results,” yet President Obama does not have even one Middle Eastern result to show. He excels at speeches, fancy words, and hollow slogans, yet in our region Arab regimes disparage speeches, intellectuals, and words and this is exactly the way he’s perceived over here: childish, foolish, and unwilling to really get his hands “dirty”.

We saw a signal, using Middle Eastern codes, when Egyptian President Mubarak did not welcome Obama in Cairo last June at the president’s speech to the Muslim world, where he sought to turn a new leaf in US-Muslim relations. President Mubarak knew it would end badly and even refrained from appearing in the same hall when Obama delivered his speech.

As Obama approaches the halfway mark of his presidency, his plan of rapprochement with Islam has collapsed and he has no other plan, no agenda, and no direction. He is helpless vis-à-vis Iran, and the tough sanctions imposed on Tehran by Congress last month were approved against his will.  Meanwhile, as President Obama announced his success at pulling the American army out of Iraq, Sunni terrorism is running wild there yet again, more brutal and violent than ever.

The American president’s lost direction played a role in the weakening of this camp, as a weak and confused US gives way to a strong, threatening Iran, with no certainty that there’s someone out there who would safeguard Gulf states. Yet it’s not only about Iran: Turkey too is taking a radical turn and attempting to form a radical alliance of its own in the region, while correctly interpreting the American vacuum.

Yet here comes a warning: Those who run away from the Middle East are destined to have the Middle East run after them.