If Washington wants to help, it should tell both sides that when they are ready to resume peace talks, they US will provide them with all the assistance in the world. But in no way should it exert pressure on either party to do something that would backfire. Peace cannot be imposed on governments and peoples.
Forcing leaders to do something against their will is counterproductive and harmful to the peace process. Now an apologetic Abbas is trying to “cover up” for his sin by moving closer to Hamas and by threatening to launch a “third intifada” over the issue of the Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
By forcing Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on the sidelines of the United Nation’s General Assembly deliberations in New York, the US Administration caused damage to its own efforts to resume the stalled Middle East peace talks.
Over the past six months, Abbas has repeatedly declared that he would not meet with Netanyahu or return to the negotiating table unless the Israeli government froze construction in Jewish settlements and accepted the two-state solution.
It is not clear in the first place why Abbas is suddenly setting conditions for talking to Netanyahu. Abbas and his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, were talking to all Israeli prime ministers while bulldozers were continuing to build new homes in the settlements.
How come Abbas was talking to Ehud Olmert and Tsipi Livni unconditionally? Did Abbas discover the settlements only when Netanyahu came to power?
Or is it because Abbas sees that the Obama Administration has adopted a different approach toward the settlements?
Only hours before the White House announced that Abbas and Netanyahu would be attending a three-way summit with President Barack Obama, the Palestinian president once again reaffirmed his strong opposition to meeting with the Israeli prime minister.
Abbas’s announcement came immediately after meeting in Ramallah with Obama’s special Middle East envoy, George Mitchell.
In fact, some of Abbas’s top aides and prominent spokesmen rushed to announce after the meeting that their boss would not meet with Netanyahu during his stay in New York.
Less than 12 hours later, the White House statement came as a surprise even to the Abbas aides and spokesmen.
So what happened in the hours between the two conflicting statements that came out of Ramallah and Washington?
Palestinian officials insist that Abbas was actually forced to attend the tripartite summit following “threats” from the Obama Administration.
According to these officials, Mitchell and other senior Obama advisors threatened that Washington would publicly hold the Palestinians responsible for the continued stalemate if Abbas refused to see Netanyahu.
The Americans also hinted that they and their European allies would reduce financial aid to the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian officials explained.
Some officials in Ramallah have gone as far as accusing the Obama Administration of “humiliating” Abbas by forcing him to meet with Netanyahu.
Indeed, Abbas’s credibility does seem to have been harmed by his mere participation in the summit. Palestinians across the political spectrum were united in their assessment that the meeting with Netanyahu had dealt a severe blow to Abbas’s credibility.
Even some representatives of Abbas’s Fatah faction have joined the choir of critics who accuse him of succumbing to American dictates. Abbas is already under attack for being too affiliated with and dependent on the US. Many Palestinian refer to him as a US puppet and accuse him of serving the interests of the Americans and Europeans instead of those of his own people.
The tripartite summit may be a tactical achievement of the Obama Administration, but as far as Abbas is concerned it’s nothing but a disaster. There is no way Abbas would be able to deliver when he’s weak and has no credibility.