Sunday, May 31, 2009

Abbas--The Incredible Shrinking Peace Partner

Noah Pollak draws a comparison in The Peace Process and the Princess Bride, when he responds to Jackson Diehl's Friday piece in The Washington Post. Diehl writes:
Until Israel meets his demands, the Palestinian president says, he will refuse to begin negotiations. He won’t even agree to help Obama’s envoy, George J. Mitchell, persuade Arab states to take small confidence-building measures. …

Abbas and his team fully expect that Netanyahu will never agree to the full settlement freeze — if he did, his center-right coalition would almost certainly collapse. So they plan to sit back and watch while U.S. pressure slowly squeezes the Israeli prime minister from office. “It will take a couple of years,” one official breezily predicted. Abbas rejects the notion that he should make any comparable concession — such as recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, which would imply renunciation of any large-scale resettlement of refugees.

Instead, he says, he will remain passive. “I will wait for Hamas to accept international commitments. I will wait for Israel to freeze settlements,” he said.
Pollak notes that in describing Abbas, Diehl is confusing strength and patience with something far simpler:
There should be no mystery about what Abbas is up to. His flippant declaration of passivity is transparently employed because he is powerless. It is his only way of avoiding the embarrassing spectacle of falling flat on his face the moment it comes time for him to take action. So he speaks in grandiose terms about how everyone else must move before he does, when in reality — like Westley — he is paralyzed. Call it the Princess Bride strategy. And it appears that, for the time being at least, he has a willing sponsor in the Obama Administration.
Actually, Obama is much more than merely a sponsor, standing behind Abbas--in point of fact, Obama has decided to run interference for him.

Charles Krauthammer writes:
We have to start understanding that Abbas is an illusion. He is a fiction. He is a ghost. He is a potential president. I could go on, but you get the idea.

I mean, even the presidency he holds is a dubious legality. And it is said of him that he doesn't even control downtown Ramallah where his offices are.

So you’ve got a man who doesn't have anything in his control. And the reason that years of negotiations he held with the previous Israeli leader, Ehud Olmert, went nowhere is because when Olmert offered everything, Abbas had nothing he can offer to back it up.

So, what is it the United States is trying to do? It has to have a peace process in place, otherwise people will wake up and say we don't have a peace process, and that is intolerable. So you create one.

If you see where Obama is going next week, he's going to be in Egypt, in Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. The idea is to create an odd, three-way negotiation in which Israel makes concessions, small concessions, incremental, on the ground, like the lifting of roadblocks, the dismantling of outlying settlements.

And the corresponding concession is not from Abbas, who can't deliver, but from the Arab states — for example, the relaxation of Israel's isolation, trade bans. You could imagine the ping-pong team in Saudi Arabia, although that's rather unlikely, but a gesture on the part of Arabs. So that's what the administration is setting up.

There are some, however, in the administration who believe you can actually have a real settlement in this administration. I think it's an illusion. There's an old adage in the Middle East, "He whom the gods would destroy puts it in his head to solve the Arab-Israeli dispute." [emphasis added]
This amounts little more than political sleight-of-hand, at a time when Obama himself has created great expectations among the Arab world and the Palestinian Arabs. The Palestinian Arabs in particular are being reinforced in their impression that they will have to do very little to get their state.

The question is whether the Arab world is willing to do all the work.

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