The world held its breath last September 26th as Palestinian "President" Mahmoud Abbas made his case for statehood before the United Nations General Assembly. The Israeli establishment still stands disturbed by the Palestinian Authority's [PA] move, to the point that Ehud Barak, Israel's defense minister, described it as "a very dangerous situation" that "requires action." Nonetheless, amid this storm; Israel might have an opportunity of a lifetime on which to capitalize.
Whatever Abbas wad doing, and whatever the outcome might be, Abbas was reinforcing Palestinian victimhood, the fuel that keeps the PLO financed by the world, even though it comes at a heavy price for the Palestinian people. PA officials have already confirmed that even if a Palestinian State will be declared by the UN, Palestinian refugees will not be returning to it, including those who already live in areas under the PA's control. The PA claims that these people should return only to Israel -- a statement that shows either that the PA has its sights set on taking control of all of Israel , or is simply trying to keep the Palestinian suffering ongoing in order to get more international sympathy and especially more international funding.
Abbas has been persistent about going to the UN even though the United States announced it would veto a UN decision to recognize Palestine as an independent state. This announcement by itself is a premature death for Abbas's quest. Why then did Abbas insist on pursuing the statehood bid despite the definite American veto?
Today Abbas is an illegitimate "president," who has overstayed his term two years by refusing to hold free elections; unable to enforce his government's authority on the Gaza Strip, or even to return to his own house there which was seized by Hamas when it took over the Gaza Strip in 2005, forcing out Abbas's Palestinian Liberation Organization [PLO] in a matter of days. Hamas has since consolidated its rule over the Gaza strip, with no sign of Abbas and his fellow PLO leaders being able to restore their authority there. Hamas has consistently shown carelessness, to say the least, toward any "reconciliation" with Abbas, and has not offered any concessions whatever in that regard.
Abbas's other house, the P L O, is not much nicer to him than is Hamas. Inner political struggle between Abbas and his competitors has been ongoing for a few years, and has resulted in Abbas's expelling his rival, Muhammad Dahlan, from the Palestinian Authority's security forces on allegations of "attempting to undermine the Palestinian Authority". Dahlan is known as the Palestinian Authority's former bully, and one of the Palestinian officials with the strongest records on coordinating counter-terrorism operations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Dahlan has become powerful to the point where he has been viewed by many as a potential replacement for Abbas, now aged 76. Although Dahlan is out of the Palestinian Authority's territories, his loyalists are still in Ramallah, armed to the teeth; possibly still on the payroll, and threatened with forced resignation over Dahlan's expulsion. Abbas's reign over the Palestinian Authority, still not stable, could easily be compromised by Dahlan or any other rival.
Moreover, the Palestinians living under Abbas's regime have had more than enough of the corruption, extortion, and widespread violations of human rights. Palestinians who were able to speak freely against Israel when they were under Israel's rule, for example, now have to think twice before they criticize Abbas or any members of his inner circle. And the Palestinians' living conditions continue to deteriorate despite generous American and European aid pouring into the PA. All of this, in addition to the sweeping upheavals of the "Arab Spring," could well have given Abbas a reason to fear that his regime would be one of the easiest to be toppled by his people. The people in Abbas's circle can clearly see that the strong Mubarak was toppled by peaceful protesters; that Abbas is not nearly as strong as Mubarak, and that the Palestinians might not be as peaceful as Egypt's protestors.
Abbas's determination to bid for statehood has served in occupying the Palestinian public's mind for the last few months: their media has been consumed with it, and even Abbas's competitors from within the PLO could not afford to stand against him when he was out to achieve the 60-year-old dream of statehood for the Palestinian people.
At the UN, Abbas was the Palestinians' hero. He was speaking their woes and representing their worries to the world. It did not mater to the average Palestinian that Abbas and other PA officials were living richly while Palestinians suffered; it did not matter that Abbas's political opponents were still being held in Palestinian jails merely for disliking Abbas; nor did it matter that Abbas -- who was requesting for a Palestinian state— was and still is a Jordanian citizen. Abbas seems to have been forgiven by his people for all his sins simply because he invested in an emotionally-charged up speech.
Abbas's bid for Palestinian statehood has not only served him well in keeping his position as President of the Palestinian Authority, it has also retained for some the image of Abbas as the "leader" of the Palestinian people.
Abbas's bid for the statehood, however, might make him disappear. According to a recent poll, 70% of the Palestinians in Jerusalem would choose Israeli rule of the city over the Palestinian Authority's rule.
At the same time, Abbas's statehood quest has apparently disappointed the Palestinian Authority's closest friend and benefactor, the United States. US President Barack Obama announced American opposition to the Palestinian's move several times; and met privately with Abbas on September 21. While Obama will not sever cooperation with the PA, what will happen next is up to the negotiations that the Russians, Europeans and the United States are now urging on both parties, in response to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's call at the UN immediately to start negotiations with no preconditions, which Abbas has so far declined to do so.
How will Israel handle the next steps is up to it, but nevertheless , whether Abbas wins statehood or not, both ways, Israel will have an opportunity to set new rule for the game,. Should the PA continue to violate the Oslo accords, as it has been continually doing almost daily for the past eighteen years, Israel will have, and already does have, the legal grounds to end the Oslo agreement with the Palestinian Authority altogether. While Israel is not likely to do so unless the PA makes a clumsy move first, it still is able to develop a new, less tolerant, approach to dealing with the PLO going forward.