The Aftermath of Abbas' UN Speech / Pinhas Inbari

27 September 2011
In his speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Friday, PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas sent two distinct messages. First, he demanded that the PLO be able to use the tribunals in The Hague to sue Israel for its 'settlement'crimes". Second, Abbas warned that continued settlement building would lead to the end of the Palestinian Authority. Accordingly, the Palestinians' Third Intifada is meant to haunt Israel in the International Criminal Court. However, should this initiative fail, the Palestinians will have no other option but to dismantle the Palestinian Authority.

Indeed, the well-organized Fatah demonstrators in Ramallah have already begun waving the slogan of the 'delegitimation Intifada', which reads "Netanyahu Bye-Bye - Naltaqi fi Lahay" (“We will meet in The Hague"). The United States has already made it clear to the Palestinians that this line of action will be met with a harsh American response.

While the International Quartet for the Middle East has offered a formula for negotiations in order to gain some time to reach an agreement, the PLO has made it clear that it will settle for nothing short of full UN membership, thus challenging the United States and some senior Arab states. As long as the Palestinians are in an 'all or nothing' mood, they may go as far as dismantling the Palestinian Authority or having Mahmoud Abbas resign.

It is widely suspected that Abbas is already in the mood to retire. He declared on several occasions that he would not seek reelection in the next Palestinian presidential election. In addition, it has been reported that Abbas had said he would vacate his seat should a Hamas candidate be elected in the next electoral campaign.

This declaration has already created a stir inside Fatah’s cadres and around Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, but has not gained enough traction so as to disturb the preparations for the UN bid for statehood. It is worth mentioning that on the same day that Mahmoud Abbas delivered his speech at the UN, his bitter rival, Muhammad Dahlan, declared that dismantling the PA would be political suicide and expressed regret that Israel never offered the option of a state within interim borders to the Palestinians.

Dahlan's statement must be viewed through the lens of the fundamental differences that exist in the political echelons of the decades-old Palestinian political system. The current leadership of the PLO is split between those who came to Ramallah from Tunis and represent the refugees of the 1948 war, and the local Fatah leadership that lives in the West Bank, including the Tanzim Fatah leaders like Marwan Barghouti, Jibril Rajub, and Prime Minister Fayyad, in addition to Dahlan, who is a Gazan. While the 'Tunisian' leadership does reside in the West Bank, it has a place to run to if the Palestinian Authority disintegrates. Mahmoud Abbas, for example, has a home in Amman where his family resides, and, according to Jordanian internet sites, carries a Jordanian ID. Thus, the 'Tunisian' leadership has the option of leaving everything behind – an option that is not available to the locally based leadership.

However, the 'Tunisian' PLO leadership is aware that its retreat to Amman is not taken for granted by the Jordanians. Jordan does not view the Palestinian unilateral bid for statehood at the UN bid favorably. It fears that the collapse of negotiations between Israel and the PA would unleash claims of the Palestinian refugees in Jordan-proper. Hence, letting Mahmoud Abbas resettle in Amman is not an option welcomed by the Jordanian authorities, which may choose to revoke his citizenship.

The 'Tunisian' Palestinian leadership would be best advised to consider its next moves carefully before making any dramatic decisions like dismantling the Palestinian Authority and having its leader resign.

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