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The Obama Administration Snubs Abbas

New America Media, New Analysis, Jalal Ghazi Posted: Nov 06, 2009

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announced yesterday that he will not seek reelection, but many are skeptical. They say that it is all nothing more than political maneuvering, and that it is more than likely that he will seek another term. But one thing is clear: Abbas standing with Washington has fallen.

When President Barack Obama first came to office in January, he demanded that Israel stop the construction of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. That made Abbas feel that he had an ally in the White House. Abbass optimism was further bolstered when Obama called him soon after he took office.

But that optimism was short lived.

According to Al Jazeera English, the Obama administration has made a U turn on its Middle East policy by abandoning the call for a settlement freeze as a prelude for peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians. Not only that, there is talk that the Obama administration might be looking at another Palestinian leader to lead the peace process.

Tensions between the Obama administration and Abbas were ignited when U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said during her recent visit to Jerusalem that there never was a precondition for peace talks. It's always been an issue within the negotiations. What the Prime Minister [Netanyahu] has offered in specifics on the policy of settlementsis unprecedented in the context of prior to negotiations (YouTube.)

Clintons remarks enraged Palestinian officials. According to the London- based Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper, Abbas categorically told her that he would not resume peace negations unless settlement construction is stopped.

The administrations policy reversal has frayed relations between it and the Palestinian Authority. Azzam al-Ahmad, a member of the Central Committee of Fatah accused Clinton of baring her teeth. Al-Ahmad accused the Obama administration of being hypocritical.

Why is the settlement freeze so important for Abbas and his supporters? For one thing, if he does not press for it, not only will it make it difficult for him to resume peace talks, it would jeopardize his chances of winning a second term in the upcoming elections, if they are held at all.

Abbas is known as the architect of the 1993 Oslo Peace agreement, under which the Palestinian Authority agreed to stop using armed resistance in exchange for negotiations for a future Palestinian state. But he hasnt been able to show the Palestinians that he has achieved anything tangible, other than autonomy in major Palestinians cities.

That is not enough for them. Millions of them still live in refugee camps. Palestinians in East Jerusalem continue to be evicted from their homes by Jewish settlers. The dividing wall that runs all along the West Bank, as well as the myriad checkpoints, continue to obstruct access to hospitals, schools and jobs.

Abbas has counted on U.S. backing on the issue of settlement freezes to strengthen his political standing, which took a sound beating, especially after the release of the Goldstone report that accused both Israel and Hamas of committing war crimes during the recent war in Gaza.

Under strong U.S. pressure, Abbas asked the United Nations Human Rights Council to defer voting on the report. This caused so much outrage among the Palestinians that Abbas was forced to go back to the UN and ask that a vote be taken. But he was too late.

According to a poll by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center (JMCC), Palestinian confidence in Abbas has dropped to 12.1 percent compared to 17.8 percent in June. According to the poll, the ousted Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh from the Hamas party is currently the most trusted Palestinian official. He enjoys 14.2 percent support. This means that were the presidential election to take place in January, Abbas could lose.

If Obama felt Abbas deserved to be supported, he would have continued to exert pressure on Netanyahu to agree to a temporary settlement freeze. As for Netanyahu, he too seems to be unwilling to support Abbas at this critical time. But looking at the bigger picture, one might ask what difference a temporary settlement freeze would make, especially when considering that Israel can always resume settlement construction.

According to David Michaelis, director of current affairs at Link TV, who produced news programs for the state-owned Israeli television for 25 years, It seems that Obama and Natanyahu do not feel that Abbas has any legitimacy left among the Palestinian people, especially after the Goldstone report. [This] means that he [has become] a useless partner in the peace process.

Who then is a better replacement for the 74-year-old Abbas? There are rumors in Arab and Israeli media that one possible person is Marwan Barghuthi, who is currently serving a life sentence in an Israeli prison. The popular Fatah leader may stand a better chance than Abbas in the upcoming elections. However, his attitude towards the peace process is not exactly to the left of Abbas, at least from the perspective of the Israeli government.

Maan News Agency quoted Barghuthi as saying, There is no peace partner in Israel, and the Israeli government is not mature enough to establish a real and just peace with the Palestinian people. Unless Israel ends its occupation of the Palestinian territories it occupied in 1967, enable the Palestinians to build their independent state, guarantee return of refugees, and release all Palestinian detainees, all talks about peace are pointless. http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=235588

A more likely replacement for Abbas, according to Al Jazeera.net, is former Palestinian Authority security chief in Gaza Muhammad Dehlan. Political analyst Nahed Hatr said, Dahlan is allied with the Israeli right to promote the so-called economic peace project, along with his partners Salam Fayad, (the current Palestinian Authority Prime Minister). And, he added, Im afraid that the Jordanian government is involved in a project to replace Abbas with Dahlan. See Al Jazeera.

Hatr based his concern on what he called official accommodations that were made for Dahaln in Jordan. Hatr said that in the past few days, Dahlan met with the former head of the General Intelligence, Muhammad Dahabi. In addition, Jordanian parliament member Kahlil Ateyeh arranged a meeting between Dahlan and Jordanian journalists and members of parliament who had earlier severely criticized Dahaln. This is seen as an attempt to polish the image of Dahlan for a possible new role.

Related Articles:

White House Opens Doors for Moderate Jewish Voices

Obama Signals 'Not Business as Usual' to Israel

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