Hassan Barari
The Jordan Times (Opinion)
July 27, 2010 - 12:00am

I was not moved this week when I read that the American administration decided to upgrade its diplomatic relations with the Palestinian Authority (PA) by granting its mission in Washington a higher status, yet still less than embassy. The upgrade is not expected to put an end to the Israeli occupation nor to improve the PA’s battered imaged among the Palestinians.

This logic is flawed, reminding of the reason former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice decided to help the PA after its troops suffered defeat against Hamas in Gaza: to encourage the Gazans to rise up against Hamas. In other words, helping the PA in the West Bank was not to help the Palestinians establish their independent Palestinian state but to enfeeble Hamas.

It seemed to me back then that the Bush administration failed both to understand the dynamic that catapulted Hamas to power and to strengthen the status of the PA. It should surprise no one that the half-hearted American efforts never succeeded in changing the status of the PA or of its chairman, Mahmoud Abbas. There is no reason why this most recent move would result in a different outcome.

Ultimately, the American administration had to make this concession because it failed miserably to persuade the Israeli government to agree to any concessions in the proximity talks. Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu managed to evade much of the American soft pressure and is emboldened by what he sees as an American retreat. US President Barack Obama does not have the luxury of maintaining a standoff with Netanyahu when his party’s success in the upcoming mid-term election hangs in the balance.

In a shrewd move, Netanyahu made it clear to the American president that he would offer nothing unless it was in the context of direct negotiations. Realising that his options in dealing with the Israelis were shrinking, Obama began to put pressure on the Palestinians. There is need to entice Abbas to ditch proximity talks and move straight to direct negotiations, so it is in this context that the American administration announced its intentions to upgrade diplomatic relations with the PA.

In the words of the White House spokesman, Thomas Vietor: “This decision reflects our confidence that through direct negotiations, we can help achieve a two-state solution with an independent and viable Palestine living side by side with Israel?. We should begin preparing for that outcome now, as we continue to work with the Palestinian people on behalf of a better future."

Abbas may very well accept to move to direct negotiations with the Israelis. He has little room to manoeuvre, especially as he has no success to claim. If such a move materialises, it will embolden his people to present him as a leader who achieved something for the Palestinians.

It is not easy to believe that the American gambit is doomed right from the start. It might give Abbas some ammunition against his opponents among the Palestinians, who accused him of being ineffective with both the Americans and the Israelis, but it is not expected to create the conditions for liberation and independence.

That said, I do not want to belittle any achievement. On the contrary, the upgrade of the PA mission in Washington will help the Palestinians conduct their diplomatic relations with greater ease. It is unfortunate, however, that this American effort will not move the Palestinians towards their ultimate goal of liberation.


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