Barak Ravid
Haaretz (Analysis)
October 15, 2012 - 12:00am

RAMALLAH - On Monday, Yossi Beilin sat alongside Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas  in a convention hall in Mukataa, and waxed nostalgic. “We used to work without the Americans,” he said. “Clinton heard about Oslo two weeks before the White House ceremony." Abbas, a bitter smile on his face, corrected him. “A week before,” he said.

Some 19 years after that historic event, the despair in Ramallah has never seemed deeper. It is ingrained in the faces of Abbas and his advisers, who met on Sunday with the delegation of the Geneva Initiative, which include Knesset members, mayors, and political activists from Labor, Kadima, Meretz, and the Likud. MKs from Shas had also planned to attend, but cancelled at the last minute. On the eve of elections, a picture with Abbas could only do damage.

The Palestinian delegation was at a loss. Last year’s United Nations Security Council move failed, and the move planned for this year isn’t garnering international interest. When Abbas spoke before the UN General Assembly two weeks ago, the hall was half empty. The average Palestinian has also lost hope in the peace process. He’s given up hopes of ending the Israeli occupation, and has directed his frustration over the economic crisis at Abbas and his Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad.

The upcoming Israeli elections only served to enhance the depression in Mukataa. As the Likud campaign focuses on the Iranian issue, the Labor party on the price of cottage cheese and cucumbers, and as Yair Lapid pushes the amorphous idea of “a new method,” the Palestinians understand that they do not interest the Israeli public, or its elected officials.

“Never have I felt more desperation in the Palestinian streets than I feel today,” said Yasser Abed Rabbo, the secretary of the active committee of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, and the frustration could be seen on his face as well. “When I talk today about the two state solution, people look at me like I’m crazy, like I’ve said that [Foreign Minister Avigdor] Lieberman is the Secretary General of the Geneva Convention,” continued Abed Rabbo.

The head of the Palestinian negotiation team, Saeb Erekat, doesn’t stop smiling, but displays the same despair. He says that he recommended to Abbas that he return the keys to Netanyahu. “The Palestinian Authority is broken anyway, so we might as well make it official,” he said.

Will this despair plant the seeds of a third intifada? Abbas stressed on Sunday in front of the MKs that a return to terror is not an option, though he hinted that a continuation of the deadlock could lead to further deterioration. “No one knows what could happen if the Arab Spring reaches us,” he said. “It has reached Jordan, and look what has happened in Syria – there is chaos everywhere.”

His advisers are even more pessimistic. “The Palestinian citizen sees that the national political process is completely blocked, so he focuses on his day to day life,” said Abed Rabbo to the MKs. “But eventually he’ll forget, and it will blow up in our faces.”

Abbas is in despair over Netanyahu. “He has ruined the two state solution,” stressed Abbas. “Now there are more and more Palestinians talking about one state.”  He is steadfast in his determination to approach the UN General Assembly, to attain observer-state status for Palestine. Apparently, this will happen in late November. The day after, he told the MKs, he will resume negotiations with Israel, without any preconditions.

When asked of his opinion on a possible return to politics for former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and why the two of them didn’t reach an agreement, he places the blame on internal Israeli issues.

He mentioned his constant contact with Olmert, and even revealed that he called him two weeks ago from New York. One of his advisers said that the conversation focused mostly on praising the former prime minister for his interest in peace, but not in politics.

But the evidence of Abbas’ longing for Olmert’s return to politics rests on the fact that he did not hesitate to alter history concerning the negotiations they held in 2008.  In an interview with the Washington Post in 2009, Abbas said that an agreement wasn’t reached because the differences between the two positions were too great.

On Sunday, he sounded completely different. “During Olmert’s time we had successes,” he remembered. “We didn’t reach an agreement, but we reached understandings on all of the core issues… I’m sure if there was more time, maybe two more months, we could have reached an agreement… he left, and when Netanyahu showed up, he denied the understandings, and decided to return to the beginning.”
The MKs and political activists urged Abbas to try and influence Israeli public opinion before the elections. “The peace process is not playing a central part in these elections and that’s a bad sign,” said MK Daniel Ben Simon (Labor).

Attorney Shimon Chazan, a veteran Likud persona from Holon, had his own idea. “I invite you into Israel,” he said to Abbas. “Come like Sadat, and speak to the people. You can have an influence.”

Ron Pundak, one of the architects of the Oslo agreements was more specific. “In November, there will be a memorial ceremony in Rabin Square. Come talk to the Israelis,” he proposed. Yossi Beilin joined in. “State that you are prepared to speak in the Knesset following the elections, “ Beilin said. “That could change everything. People will talk about it. Everyone will look forward to it.”

Abbas listened to the Israeli guests, but grew impatient as time went on. He lifted up a small booklet that was distributed to all of the attendees at the meeting, and proceeded to provide details on the Palestinian stances on every issue pertaining to the peace process. “What is unclear?” he asked, while waving the booklet in the air as anger, frustration, and doubt continued to mount. “Look at it. Netanyahu should look at it. Anything else, I can’t clear up. The ball is in the Israeli court. If you want two states, act accordingly,” said Abbas.


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