In a "dramatic" speech to his people last week, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced that he had "no desire" to run for another term in a new election slated for January 24, 2010 – a threat was directed first and foremost toward the US Administration, which he and his top aides accused of being "biased" in favor of Israel.
Abbas's message to the Americans: You either endorse my policies entirely or I won't run in the next election. He has convinced himself that without him the world would stop and the Palestinians would never be able to move forward.
Abbas's departure from the scene would, in fact, benefit the peace process and bring the Palestinians closer to fulfilling their aspirations. But he does not seem to in a hurry to retire.
The Palestinian leader is upset with Washington because of its failure to force Israel to freeze all construction in Jewish settlements and neighborhoods in the West Bank and Jerusalem. He has refused to resume peace talks with Israel unless construction in these areas is halted completely.
But the US Administration, along with some Arab leaders, insists that the Palestinians must return to the negotiating table with Israel unconditionally.
Abbas is now finding it difficult to meet this demand, especially in light of the fact that he had been telling his people, almost on a daily basis, that he would never resume the peace negotiations while construction in the settlements and Jerusalem was continuing.
Abbas's move is seen by many Palestinians as a ploy aimed not only at pressuring the Americans, but also at boosting his standing among his constituents. Some said that he was trying to imitate ex-Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who announced his resignation after his country's humiliating defeat in 1967, only to retract the decision the following day following massive demonstrations throughout Egyptand the rest of the Arab world.
It has been quite a long time since any Palestinian was seen demonstrating in favor of Abbas in the West Bank or Gaza Strip. Abbas's credibility and popularity have in fact suffered a series of major blows over the past few months, prompting prominent political analysts to render him irrelevant.
Yet there is another reason why Abbas is upset with the US Administration. In recent weeks there have been unconfirmed reports various Arab media outlets that Washington was trying to replace Abbas with his independent and reform-minded prime minister, Salam Fayyad.
Even before Abbas made his televised speech, his senior aides had instructed their supporters to take to the streets to "urge" the president to withdraw his threat. Placards with Abbas's portraits were prepared days in advance, as were the slogans and graffiti used by his loyalists. It later turned out that most of the demonstrators were members of the Palestinian security forces, trained, financed and equipped by American and European taxpayers' money.
to replace Abbas with his independent and reform-minded prime minister, Salam Fayyad.
Abbas and his Fatah faction see Fayyad as a real threat to their status, particularly because of the wide respect the prime minister enjoys in the international arena and because of his tight control over the Palestinian Authority budget.
The pro-Abbas demonstrations in the West Bank are intended to send a message to President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that there is only one address in Ramallah: Mahmoud Abbas.
For now, no one in Ramallah is taking Abbas's threat to stay away from the next election seriously. It is even not clear how he was planning to hold new elections without the Gaza Strip, where Hamas has already declared its intention to ban the vote. So Abbas is actually threatening not to participate in an election which he knows that he has almost no chance to hold.
Abbas's aides are now talking about the possibility that he may "reconsider" his decision if the Palestinian masses and the international community put enough pressure on him. This way he can stay in power for at least another five years by arguing that Hamas will not allow new elections and that he's being forced to "succumb" to public pressure not to quit. Under such circumstances, it would be impossible for a new leadership to emerge. And Fayyad would have to continue to do his work with Abbas breathing down his neck.