Abbas - AP - March 2012
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas pauses during a welcome ceremony for Croatia's President Ivo Josipovic in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2012. Photo by AP
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Over the last several weeks, the Palestinian issue has been pushed to the margins of both the Israeli and world media’s attention, as well as to that of the diplomatic agenda. The massacre in Syria, the presidential elections in Russia and the increasing tension with Iran captured the attention of Washington, the UN and Western Europe.

The lack of interest in the Palestinian issue caused much frustration among Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his advisors. The fact that Israeli officials were delighted that the Palestinian issue barely came up during Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s talks with Obama last week only increased the frustration in Ramallah.  

Western diplomats and Israeli officials stated that despite the fact that the issue has been sidelined, officials in Ramallah are planning to take a diplomatic step which had been worked on diligently for the past week.

Abbas and his advisors finished putting together a letter to be delivered to Netanyahu, most likely by the end of the week. The letter will place the blame on Israel for the freeze in the peace process and will pose an ultimatum to Netanyahu.

From the drafts of the letter, which had been leaked to the Palestinian media over the past couple of days, it is believed that Abbas will emphasize that the Palestinian Authority was established as a means to move from occupation to an independent Palestinian state. Abbas is expected to blame Netanyahu for depriving the Palestinian Authority of all power.  

One of the drafts contains an ultimatum which states that if Israel does not renege on all of its decisions regarding the Palestinian issue since 2000, stop settlement building, release prisoners and recognize two states on the basis of 1967 borders, the Palestinian Authority will demand that international law be fully applied to the West Bank.

Behind the legalese is the step-by-step dismantling of the Palestinian Authority, and the return of authority back to Israel. Thus, Israel will have to bear with the cost of the occupation, threaten the Palestinians. This includes not only the financial cost, but also the political, security and image-related aspects of the occupation.

The letter worries Washington, Amman and Jerusalem. Jordan’s Foreign Minister Nasser Joudah visited the Washington a week and a half ago, and met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Joudah is also conducting continuous phone calls with Netanyahu’s advisor Isaac Molho on the issue.

Upon his return from Washington, Joudah immediately traveled to Ramallah, where he passed along a letter from King Abdullah II. According to Israeli officials and Western diplomats, both the Jordanians and the Americans are putting heavy pressure on Abbas to shelve the letter, or at the very least soften its tone.

For instance, the Americans and the Jordanians asked Abbas to take out all explicit threats regarding Palestinian steps at the United Nations and even the dismantling of the Palestinian Authority and the transferring of responsibility for the West Bank back to Israeli hands.  

Washington and Amman are worried that should the letter be sent, and especially if its harsh tone remains unchanged, it would spell the end of peace negotiations for the near future. This situation would, at least primarily, increase the likelihood of further Palestinian steps at the UN. The Palestinians are already planning to turn to the Security Council in order to raise a resolution to condemn Israel over its settlements.

Washington fears that delivering the letter will increase the tension between Jerusalem and Ramallah, and will lead to internal Israeli pressure that would cause Netanyahu to take punitive measures, such as withholding tax funds to the Palestinian Authority. Such a scenario may potentially lead to a third intifada in the West Bank. Netanyahu, for his part, is interested in preventing any possible diplomatic confrontation with the Palestinians so that the international focus does not shift from Iran.

The UN Security Council will hold its monthly discussion on the Middle East in the UN headquarters in New York on Monday. The situation in Syria and the escalation in the Gaza Strip are likely to receive much attention during the discussion. The first meeting among the foreign ministers of the Quartet countries in half a year, is set to take place at the end of the Security Council discussion. The meeting will take place due to Russia’s request and despite American reservations. It is expected that Abbas’ threat to send his letter will take center stage at the meeting.

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