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Mahmoud Abbas is letting Palestine down in Jerusalem

Israel’s repeated insults don’t stop Palestine’s leaders from offering more and more in the name of their people

Suppose several armoured vehicles belonging to the Palestinian Authority security apparatus in the West Bank lethally raided an Israeli border village on the eve of a new round of peace negotiations.

Picture PA President Mahmoud Abbas defending the killings by saying he was protecting Palestinian security.

Would the Israeli delegation return to the talks with ample handshakes and smiles?

The answer is an obvious no.

But the Palestinian delegation did return to peace talks last week, for the fourth time in August, despite the fact that Israeli forces raided the Qalandiya refugee camp north of Jerusalem on August 26 and killed three people.

This was not the only deadly attack to take place during “peace talks,” and it won’t be the last.

Granted, Palestine is an occupied nation. Its leadership possesses far fewer negotiating chips than its Israeli counterpart.

But if negotiations exist under such humiliating circumstances, can Abbas and his chief negotiator Saeb Erekat reasonably expect a fair outcome — the kind that might bring a dignified peace after a decades-long military occupation?

Of course not. Yet Abbas continues to offer more concessions in ways that defy logic and fly in the face of the history of diplomacy.

He is still unrepentant about volunteering last year during an Israeli TV interview to terminate any claims to historic Palestine — last month he told a group of Israeli MPs that “the Palestinians would abandon historic claims to land that is now in the state of Israel in the event of a far-reaching peace deal.”

This is rightly seen as a direct dismissal of Palestinians’ right of return to their lands occupied in 1947-8.

Abbas has no vision, but an assortment of confounded ideas about peace, justice and international law.

He is willing to abandon the internationally enshrined rights of his people, yet expects a “just” agreement that would usher in “the end of the conflict.”

He doesn’t seem to grasp the implications of the negotiating timetable. “We wanted the meetings to take place every day or second day, not once a week or every 10 days like the Israelis want,” he complained at one point. “I don’t know why they don’t want to. We don’t have much time.”

Well, exactly.

His term as PA president has expired. His democratic credentials are past their use-by date.

But he still makes concessions in the name of his people: “You have a commitment from the Palestinian people that if we are offered a just agreement, we will sign a peace deal that will put an end to the conflict and to future demands from the Palestinian side.”

Abbas’s statements have become so strange that few political commentators aside from those in self-serving media outlets belonging to or funded by the PA even bother to try to decipher them.

The conventional wisdom is that the “peace process” outlined at Oslo all those years ago is long dead.

Israel has made it crystal clear that nothing resembling a peace agreement is present on its agenda. In August alone it announced bids for 3,000 more housing units in illegal Jewish settlements.

Even Abbas admits that “I can’t say I’m optimistic, but I hope we aren’t just wasting our time.”

However, Oslo is not dead as a culture. One aspect of Oslo is very much alive.

It continues to define Palestine’s political bankruptcy and split Palestinian society.

The “peace process” still has supporters who benefit from the perks and privileges of playing along.

This has polarised Palestinians along factional and geographical lines — and unlike other Israeli attempts to weaken Palestinian resolve, this particular gambit has been an unparalleled success.

History is laden with failed Israeli experiments aimed at destroying the Palestinian national project.

In 1976 Israel’s Yitzhak Rabin government conducted local elections in the West Bank and Gaza.

It was a classic Rabin move, hoping to strip the Palestine Liberation Organisation and nationalist leaders of any validity in the occupied territories.

Israel had made up another group of Palestinian “leaders,” mostly the traditional heads of clans — a small, self-seeking oligarchy that had historically accommodated whatever foreign power happened to be ruling over Palestinians at the time.

Israel was almost certain that its allies were ready to sweep the local elections, but it miscalculated.

National candidates won an overwhelming majority, winning 148 of the 191 mayoralties and councillorships.

Israel’s miscalculation was a rude awakening for its military and political leaderships.

But it was never going to give up trying to mould local Palestinian leaders as alternatives to the internationally recognised representatives of the Palestinian struggle.

In 1978 Menachem Begin established the Village Leagues, giving them relatively wide powers including approving or denying developmental projects in the occupied territories.

He armed them and also provided them with military protection. But this too failed.

As Ann Mosely Lesch and Mark Tessler note in Israel, Egypt and the Palestinians: From Camp David to Intifada, “the league members were widely regarded as collaborators by their fellow townspeople and villages.”

By 1983 “Israel had begun recognising the artificial nature of the Village Leagues and acknowledged the failure of the efforts to create political institutions capable of mobilising Palestinian support for the occupation.”

Abbas’s Palestinian Authority bears many similarities to the Village Leagues. It is rife with corruption, has a clan-like power structure and exists by grace of the occupiers.

Why it has proved more successful than its predecessors in appearing to represent the Palestinian people requires a separate discussion. For now, Palestinians simply have to face the fact that their leadership has completely acquiesced.

Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an internationally syndicated columnist and editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press).

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