The electoral defeat suffered
by US President Barack Obama is not supposed to be connected to events in the Middle East. Seemingly, his downfall was a result of domestic policy failures. However, when examining Obama’s relationship with Abbas and
it’s hard not to conclude that on this front too, the US president can expect to lick some wounds.
Obama and his advisors fail to understand that that the Middle East crisis cannot be resolved with “Yes we can” slogans. Several previous presidents realized that the issue is complex, problematic, and beyond their abilities, thereby taking a step back. But not Obama. He will continue to exert pressure until he prompts a collapse, which would mean either a new flare-up, or escaping Palestinian Authority leaders.
What is misleading Obama and his people to such extent? Seemingly, the West Bank presents a positive, encouraging façade: Security calm for the most part, hundreds of projects being built on the ground, reduced unemployment, and a growth rate that hasn’t been seen in years. However, all these optimistic indications, most of which are economic, are only the storefront.
Behind the Palestinian façade we discover a very grim picture of despair and frustration. On the one hand, the Palestinian Authority has neither the desire nor the ability to reach a historic compromise with Israel. On the other hand, the PA is having trouble withstanding the American and European pressure to implement such compromise.
Obama fails to understand that as long as Hamas breathes down Abbas’ neck, the latter would not be able to realize America’s objectives. Why so?
The name of the game in the territories is zeal. To our regret, at this time the zeal is not found among Abbas and his people, but rather, among Hamas members. We saw it already in the June 2007 events in Gaza. The PLO is perceived as satiated, corrupt and anachronistic, while the Palestinian public is eager for hungry, thin leadership with zeal, regardless of the ideology it represents. For example, should Ahmadinejad present a Palestinian alternative, even he could represent the Palestinians.
Obama and his people are pushing Abbas to stop the incitement against Israel. How exactly can this be done? After all, generations of incitement cannot be erased with mere declarations. Abbas himself does not believe in putting an end to incitement, as it would quickly prompt greater support for Hamas.
Very few Palestinians believe Abbas when he proposes, with US encouragement, the handover of areas under Israeli security control to the PA. Most Palestinians understand that the moment the IDF leaves any West Bank town, it may fall into the hands of Hamas, which will enlist the help of apolitical gangs.
Obama’s gamble on Abbas as the Palestinian leader disregards not only his failure to control the Gaza Strip, but also his inability to fully control the West Bank. There are towns and villages in the West Bank that “President Abbas” is afraid to go into – mostly traditional Hamas strongholds or areas controlled by gangs. This isn’t a president – it’s an “exiled ruler.”
A harsh debate emerged following the “You have a partner” campaign, where Israeli elements presented PA leaders as friends of Israel. This campaign provoked great displeasure among residents of the territories and further eroded the PA’s status. “How can you call for ongoing armed conflict against peace partners?” Abbas was asked by those who wanted to highlight the doublespeak custom he adopted, just like his predecessor Arafat.
Meanwhile, the sight of security personnel destroying settlement products prompted ridicule, at most, among many Palestinians. “After all, there isn’t one settlement in the West Bank that was not built by the Palestinians,” say those who object to these ostentatious moves, adding that “some senior PA officials made their fortunes through ‘banned’ trade with settlers, so who are you trying to fool here?”
The underground current simmering in the territories threatens to turn into a huge wave that would topple Abbas and his people. Some more pressure from Obama would see Abbas declaring “let me die with Palestine.” And then, the American president will dispatch his spokesman to say: We tried, but it didn’t work. We’ll have to fix it.
In any case, Israel will be paying the price for it.
Moshe Elad is a researcher at the Shmuel Neeman Institute at the Technion. He also serves as a National Security Studies lecturer at the Western Galilee Academic College