Abbas Emerging as New Breed of Arab Leader

Abbas now perceived as leader who does not hesitate to go head to head with leader of the most powerful country in the world, which supports Israel; he was elected democratically, opposes violence, does not bend to outside pressure.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas can be satisfied with his decision to ignore international pressure and proceed with an official request to the United Nations' Security Council for recognition of a Palestinian state. Even though in Israel it appears that the Palestinians will suffer a blow in their diplomatic struggle at the UN, Abbas' decision to act against the wishes of U.S. President Barack Obama has given him plenty of support among the Palestinian public.

With his speech on Friday before the General Assembly of the United Nations, aired on all Arab television networks, and also on international stations, Abbas became overnight not just a Palestinian but an Arab leader of significant standing. In an era in which veteran Arab leaders are departing from the Middle Eastern scene one after the other, and while others (like Hassan Nasrallah of Hezbollah and Khaled Meshal of Hamas ) are suspected of serving as agents of Iran, the 76-year-old Abbas has emerged as a new breed of Arab leader.

UN General Assembly – 23.9.11 - Reuters

He was elected democratically - even though this happened a long time ago - in 2005, he opposes violence, and does not bend to outside pressure.

The television cameras of the Arab satellite networks relayed live not only Abbas' speech in New York but also a rally in Ramallah, where hundreds carried placards with the Palestinian leader's photograph. Thus, someone who was once described by former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as a "chick without feathers" emerged once more before the Palestinian and Arab public as a determined leader who does not hesitate to go head to head with the leader of the most powerful country in the world, which supports Israel.

Abbas' speech on Friday may have lacked the charisma of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and was certainly not made in the fluent English of his Israeli colleague. Nevertheless, Abbas received much applause at the General Assembly, as he did in Ramallah's Clock Square.

In essence, Abbas succeeded in giving the Palestinians some hope. Following the failure of armed struggle and the freeze in negotiations, Abbas offered them a third way: a diplomatic struggle in parallel with peaceful "resistance." He even managed to convince the Palestinian public that this way will result in international recognition of a Palestinian state and that this way showed them the light at the end of the tunnel of occupation.

However, now comes a huge "but." The burden of proof that the new strategy works is now on Abbas. His public, which was excited by his national line vis a vis the U.S. and Israel, will demand political and economic achievements. If the recognition at the UN and the Security Council fails completely, the negotiations remain stuck and the economic situation continues to deteriorate, then the moment of glory for Abbas may pass quicker than he may expect. The president needs some sort of achievement quickly. Without it, disappointment may lead to violence and bring Hamas to the scene rather swiftly.

It is hard to imagine that Abbas is ready to show political flexibility following his visit to the UN. His UN speech was directed at the people watching him in Ramallah, Nablus and the refugee camps of the Palestinian Diaspora. He stressed over and over the nakba and the right of return and the fallen in the struggle.

On Saturday, in a press conference on his way back from New York to Amman (Abbas returns to Ramallah on Sunday), he said that he does not agree with the new initiative of the Quartet for resuming direct talks with Israel. He even claimed that the Paris Agreements, which govern the economic relations between Israel and the PA, should be reexamined.

Advisers and aides of the Palestinian leader make it clear that he is not likely to agree to negotiations in the near future without an absolute freeze on settlements. For the time being, it appears the PA intends carrying on with much the same thing: Diplomatic effort at the UN alongside "popular resistance," demonstrations without firearms, in the hope that the combination will succeed in keeping the Palestinian issue at the top of international priorities.

Meanwhile, while those close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are congratulating themselves for the diplomatic victory at the UN, in view of the clear U.S. support of Israel, the concerns at the Israel Defense Forces are different. In recent months, during consultations with the political leadership, the IDF leadership expressed support for efforts to push for resuming negotiations, so that a confrontation might be averted on the ground.

Even now, the IDF view is that it is best to return to talks instead of looking for ways to cut economic aid to the PA, which will bring about the breakdown of the security organizations there, and revert to anarchy in the West Bank.

Security coordination between the two sides proved itself during its first test this weekend. At the joint control center set up at the headquarters of the Civilian Administration in Beit El, Israeli and Palestinian officers worked together, and in most areas the last days passed by with relatively few incidents.

The main problem is found, as expected, in the confrontation between Palestinians and settlers. For some days there has been a sharp rise in incidents of stone-throwing at Israeli cars on West Bank roads.

Several hours prior to Abbas' speech at the UN, the confrontation claimed another victim in the outposts of Emek Shilo, north of Ramallah. The initial IDF investigation concluded that the soldiers who opened live fire and killed a Palestinian demonstrator, acted out of genuine concern for their safety.

However, the investigation revealed tactical problems in the conduct of the IDF. And what may be more significant, in this case too, the violence began as a result of the moving in of settlers from the illegal outposts of Esh Kodesh, toward the nearby village of Kusra, in an area where the army has declared it to be closed off to Israelis. Right-wing extremists burned a mosque in the same area several weeks ago.