Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will certainly never admit it, but he owes a huge thank you to the Israeli government, and in particular to Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Only a few days ago, it seemed Abbas might possibly evaporate from Palestinian and international consciousness in light of Hamas' achievements during Operation Pillar of Defense.
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Abbas regained his position - at least in the Palestinian and Arab media - as a hero and leader without fault: "He who dares wins," partly thanks to the Israeli PR campaign that presented the move as no less than "state terror." And now, thanks to the Israeli negative campaign, Abbas has received broad coverage in the international media - and a rare Palestinian consensus.
Even senior Hamas officials, who originally objected to the UN request, this time supported Abbas and his courage in not only going against Israel's wishes, but also those of the American administration. On Thursday afternoon, in a rally held in Ramallah Gibril Rajoub, a senior Fatah leader who recently has turned in to a leader of the movement at such events, stood alongside no less than former Hamas deputy prime minister Nasser al-Din al-Shaer. Suddenly, the phrase "Palestinian unity" does not seem so imaginary. Lieberman, who led the hysterical campaign against Abbas, "came to curse and wound up blessing."
But Lieberman should not be underestimated. His crude threats to destroy the PA if they pursued their case in the General Assembly also play into his own hands in internal politics. True, the retreat of the government and its decision not to respond somewhat damages the spirit Lieberman tried to present, but he can always claim that as opposed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who preferred to restrain himself, Lieberman recommended acting with full strength against the PA and bringing down Abbas. But if we leave aside for a moment the cynical political considerations, it is hard to believe that someone in the Foreign Ministry actually thought seriously about bringing down the PA. This is the same Authority whose security services have transformed Lieberman's ride home to the Nokdim settlement into a relatively safe one; and has brought about exceptional quiet compared to the situation in the West Bank in the previous two decades. Israeli security services are also a partner in this, but it is hard to find a senior IDF or Shin Bet officer today who would claim the quiet is the result of purely Israeli actions without a Palestinian contribution.
But the question left open for Abbas, and primarily his people, is what about tomorrow. It is not clear where Abbas is now headed. In the past he said he would agree to restart negotiations with Israel after he had international recognition as to the future borders of the Palestinian state. But now his UN representative has made it clear that such negotiations will start only once Israel stops building in the settlements.
Abbas' problem is that the Palestinian public does not show the same excitement about the UN move.