Mahmoud Abbas: All or Nothing in a Peace Deal?

"The sum of my experience is that reaching a two-state solution, Palestine and Israel living side by side in security and peace, is still possible, despite the dangers that we face and whose severity has increased recently." (Excerpt from the speech delivered by the Palestinian Authority's President Mahmoud Abbas, announcing his decision not to seek re-election next year--Ramallah, November 5, 2009).

Aides say that Mahmoud Abbas's recent decision to step down as the Palestinian Auhority's president is a sign that his frustration with the lack of progress in negotiations with Israel has reached its acme.  If Mr. Abbas withdraws from the elections scheduled for January 2010, his loyalists from the Fatah party are likely to follow, leaving the militant Hamas as the only legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.  That would be a bleak scenario for those who hope for the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks to eventually succeed.   

The 74 year-old Mr. Abbas reportedly grew disenchanted with the latest peace proposals emanating from Washington and Tel-Aviv.  Speaking at the Washington, DC conference of the Jewish Federation of North America's General Assembly on November 9, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, urged his Palestinian counterpart to re-launch the talks immediately.  What Netanyahu offers as a starting point in negotiations is a temporary halt in the construction of Israeli settlements on the West Bank of the Jordan river, after Israel completes close to 3,000 outstanding housing units there.  The U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, lauded the offer as "unprecedented," while also noting that it falls short of the Obama Administration's desire to see the construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank halted for good. 

But President Abbas was unsatisfied. He wants the expansion of Jewish settlements to end once and for all and has blamed President Obama for allegedly reversing the anti-settlement views he expressed during his presidential campaign.  In addition, Mr. Abbas hopes to create a Palestinian state within the pre-1967 war borders, i.e. encompassing West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem.  Notably, in 2007, Mr. Abbas rejected the proposal extended by the then Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, to transfer control over the majority of the West Bank to Palestinians, and govern Jerusalem jointly.  And it seems like the offer is no longer available: current Prime Minister Netanyahu has objected to a shared rule of Jerusalem.

Mr. Abbas joined Yasser Arafat's radical Fatah party in 1961 but his political views evolved by the time he succeeded Arafat in 2004.  As presidential candidate, Mr. Abbas called for a peaceful resistance toward Jewish settlers and criticized the second intifada (armed anti-Israeli uprising) of 2000 as a mistake.  Yet for all his pacifist inclinations, it seems to me that he is failing to display pragmatism and ability to meet his Jewish counterparts half-way.  Politics, after all, is the art of the possible, and a seasoned politician of Mr. Abbas's caliber should understand that his search for a solution to this crisis that meets all of the Palestinian conditions does nothing but prolong the crisis.          

It is not clear if Mr. Abbas's decision to leave the presidential post may compel Mr. Netanyahu to compromise further in a bid to reach an agreement before Israel's most tolerant Palestinian partner in all these years calls it quits.  But even if Mr. Netanyahu does submit to pressure in some way, is there a guarantee that Mr. Abbas will not take the latest Jewish concessions as an invitation to press further, until both parties reach a stalemate and go back to square one, again?        

Is Mr. Abbas ultimately frustrated with Israel's inability to accommodate Palestinian demands, or is he more frustrated with his own people pushing for maximum Israeli concessions in a peace deal?  Or, perhaps, his frustration is due to the fact that Israel's reluctance to meet his demands will only strengthen Hamas, thus further dividing the Palestinians and turning a bilateral agreement into a virtual impossibility.  Is anyone willing to chime in and help me understand the rationale behind Mr. Abbas's stance?  

Barack Obama, Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Olmert, Fatah, Hamas, Hillary Clinton, Israel, Mahmoud Abbas, Palestine