Osama Al-Sharif
Arab News
September 28, 2011 - 12:00am

It was described as a gambit, a gamble, a historic bid, a mistake, a unilateral action, a hostile move and a triumph. Regardless of where one stood on the issue of declaring Palestinian statehood; its timing and mode of delivery, its value and outcome and its long-term consequences on the Arab-Israeli conflict and Israel’s occupation of Palestine, Abbas’ move signaled a crucial milestone in the decades-old struggle to fulfill Palestinian right to self-determination as a nation.

Israel and the United States have failed to dissuade President Abbas from going through with his pledge to seek full recognition and membership. Despite enormous pressures and threats, the 76-year-old leader summoned enough courage to deliver on his promise. And by doing so he has managed to chart a new course for the Palestinian cause. That in itself could be seen, many years from now, as the single most important event since the signing of the Washington Accords.

This was after all Mahmoud Abbas on the podium, a key architect of Oslo talks, a trusted and admired leader by the West, and a man who risked losing credibility with his own people for supporting US-sponsored peace negotiations with Israel even when they have dragged on and on and yielded nothing in return. It was the same man who saw most of the gains made under the Washington Accords dissipate gradually and yet believed that a political settlement could still be worked out with Israel leading to the birth of a Palestinian state under the two-state solution.

The change in his position is of fundamental importance. His declaration that negotiations with Israel were not leading anywhere is not mere rhetoric but a bold admission of failure after 20 years of peace talks. Once President Abbas stepped down from the podium Israel woke up to the fact that it had lost a sincere partner for peace and a chance to conclude a historic deal.

Of course President Abbas did not close the door on negotiations. But from now on that process will have to be dealt with under new settings. Any future talks must be carried out under international auspices and the reference points will be clear. This was not a unilateral move on his part but one that guarantees multilateral patronage and a fair treatment of the Palestinians as an equal party to negotiations.

It was not a gambit but the right thing to do in a changing world. The Palestinians have nothing to lose from this move and a lot to gain regardless of how Israel and the United States react. Barriers and settlements will not disappear and the occupation forces will not withdraw, but their presence will no longer be an issue for purposeless negotiations and blackmail by Israel, which must answer to its occupation.

The United States will try to fumble Palestine’s bid at the Security Council, hoping to minimize the damage by avoiding a veto while denying the Palestinians the nine essential votes they need. And the Palestinians will keep persisting by taking their case next to the General Assembly. There they have enough world support to clinch a historic triumph. Again that may not change the reality of occupation in the West Bank, but it will show Israel for what it really is: Not a country seeking peace and coexistence with its Palestinian neighbors, as Benjamin Netanyahu claimed in his UN speech, but as an aggressor and a rogue state that refuses to end its brutal occupation of another nation.

The detractors will find reasons to belittle such achievements, but it would be plain stupid and hypocritical to ignore the value of international backing and support for what everyone knows is a just cause. The Palestinian bid will test America’s moral standing and political weight, especially in the Arab world. President Obama’s speech at the UN, in which he praised the Arab Spring and people’s right to be free while denying the Palestinians the same, underlined that predicament.

Washington’s position on the Palestine issue has been flawed for years. American politicians have confused their blind backing for Israel with what’s eventually good for Israel. Some Israeli commentators have warned that “a holier than thou” attitude by US presidential hopefuls on Palestine rights is actually harming Israel on the long run.

The government of Benjamin Netanyahu is missing the point altogether. It has misread the lessons of the Arab Spring and the seismic geopolitical changes that are taking place around us. It still believes that pursuing colonial policies in the West Bank while claiming to be ready for peace can work. That is a gambit, a ruse and a mistake.

President Obama and his administration know that their peace process is dead and that Netanyahu will not budge on positions that the Palestinians can never accept. They know that apart from using the veto they have no idea what else to do. As the president seeks re-election he will not risk another confrontation with the Israeli premier for fear of losing Jewish voters. What is pathetic is that he may have already lost these votes, and what is even sadder is that the Palestinians will have to pay for such a duplicitous reality of American politics.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017