Avi Issacharoff
October 28, 2009 - 12:00am

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will arrive on Sunday for a visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority during which she will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and PA President Mahmoud Abbas. George Mitchell, the U.S. Middle East envoy, will be in Israel Thursday to lay the groundwork for the secretary of state's visit. Clinton and Mitchell will attempt to persuade Abbas to reopen negotiations with Israel on a final peace agreement.

Abbas will come to the meetings with the Americans when Palestinian elections will be approaching, and the last thing he needs is the renewal of negotiations with Israel without a complete freeze of construction in the settlements. Nonetheless, Clinton will ask Abbas to restart the negotiations without getting what he has been seeking for so long - a halt to Jewish construction in the West Bank and especially in East Jerusalem.

The American secretary of state may have the United States to blame for the current situation. The Obama White House and State Department pushed Abbas not to seek a hearing at the United Nations on the Goldstone Commission report on Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. This greatly damaged Abbas' standing in Palestinian public opinion.

The Americans had engendered a feeling in Abbas' office that this time the administration was serious in its determination to apply pressure on Israel to stop all construction over the Green Line. President Obama, his secretary of state and Middle East envoy were the ones who, over and over, said they were demanding this as part of the first stage of the road map peace plan. The moment they came to an agreement with Israel on a partial construction freeze, they left Abu Mazen high and dry. He was up a tree they had helped him climb.

The embarrassing situation in which Abbas finds himself may leave him feeling more than a little betrayed. This helps explain his implied threat in the course of a weekend conversation with Obama that he would not submit his candidacy for the presidency in the upcoming Palestinian elections - in other words, he would resign. A high-ranking figure in Fatah explained the situation well when asked about it by Haaretz: "You can remain calm. On our side, no senior official resigns."

Indeed, it appears that Abbas has no plans to leave the Muqata in the near future. All of his associates deny he plans to step down or that he would not submit his candidacy for another presidential term. They didn't hide the fact that the hints that Abbas conveyed in his talk with Obama were primarily meant to bring about American pressure on Israel for additional concessions, for moves that would make life in the West Bank easier and to shore up Abbas' standing on the Palestinian street.

Such help is especially significant when the idea of elections in the territories is beginning to sound like a possibility. But beyond that, it seems Abbas is simply frustrated with his potential peace negotiation partners. In the days of former prime minister Ehud Olmert, a personal connection developed between Abbas and the Israeli premier; in the Netanyahu era, things have quickly sunk into a relationship of personal resentment.

What Abbas associates say about Netanyahu is not fit for print. They perceive Netanyahu as someone who is doing everything possible to weaken Abbas. It could be this perception is correct.

Still, if there are no unforeseen developments, Abbas is expected to be Fatah's representative, as well perhaps as that of the entire Palestinian Liberation Organization, in the presidential elections. Among other reasons, this is the case because Fatah and the PLO have no other candidate who could win the elections.

The real question is whether elections will take place in January or not. If Fatah and Hamas manage to reconcile, elections could be pushed back to June. If not, and Abbas stays in office without elections, he will lose legitimacy in the eyes of the Palestinian public.


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