UN Rejection Sends Harsh Wake-up Call to Abbas

For years, the Palestinian president has deluded himself that the United States would act to end the Israeli occupation during his lifetime. On Wednesday, he was forced to abandon his illusions.

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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PA President Mahmoud Abbas signs international agreements in Ramallah, December 31, 2014.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas signs international agreements in Ramallah, December 31, 2014.Credit: Reuters
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

When the outcome of the UN Security Council resolution vote to end the Israeli occupation became known on Wednesday morning, the Israeli government and Hamas found themselves on the same side – and not for the first time.

Both had a sense of schadenfreude at Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ latest defeat. The five abstaining countries – as well as the United States and Australia, which opposed the resolution – certainly did not intend to interfere in the exhausting ping-pong between Hamas and Fatah. But, in fact, that is precisely what they did.

Another argument was added to Hamas’ arsenal: Just as the negotiating track between Fatah and the Palestinian Authority had failed, this proved that their diplomatic track with the United Nations would fail. Only “resistance” (that is, force of arms) brings achievements.

This is a claim that sounds logical to many Palestinians. To all Palestinians, including those who do not support Hamas, the Security Council – and the international community backing it – continues to treat Israel as if it can act against and above international law. That is a conclusion that invites calls to armed struggle, without reference to its outcomes in the past.

Even if the Palestinian-Jordanian proposal – calling for peace with Israel within a year and an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories by late 2017 – had passed, no one deluded themselves that Israel would adhere to it and withdraw. European countries and the United States would not punish Israel the way they do other countries in breach of Security Council resolutions. From that perspective, the potential of nine council-member votes in favor was largely symbolic.

But this symbolism would have helped Abbas continue to once again postpone the signing of the Rome Statute. He is known to be among the opponents – perhaps the last – of this step. When the Security Council, under open threats from the United States, did not rescue him, Abbas, as president of the “State of Palestine,” signed 22 international treaties on Wednesday afternoon, including the Rome Statute.

Here, too, a delay might ensue because of internal disputes among the Palestinians over the approach to the international tribunal. But, as a Palestinian activist involved for years in preparing the application to the International Criminal Court in The Hague told Haaretz, senior Hamas and Islamic Jihad senior members have said they are prepared to risk being tried in this court themselves, if that is the price for a Palestinian request to investigate suspicions of war crimes by Israelis and Israel.

Closer to Abbas

On the eve of the Security Council vote, senior officials in other Palestine Liberation Organization bodies were critical of Abbas and his way of making decisions without consulting them. They also claimed there were dangerous and unnecessary elements in the wording (for example, the mention of exchanges of territories, or that Jerusalem is the capital of both states). The rejection of the resolution now brings them closer to Abbas and strengthens attempts to create a decision-making apparatus that is less authoritarian.

At the moment, it is hard to know whether the now-opened track to The Hague will have an impact – and if so, when – on continued security cooperation with the Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet security service. Some say the PA will cease being the PA if it stops such cooperation in its broader sense – involvement in the Israeli mechanisms of economic, political and military control in the territories.

The United States has, over the years, become the largest donor to the PA, in exchange for the PA continuing to adhere to the Oslo Accords – although the latter deepened Israeli domination over the Palestinians. Now, according to a senior Palestinian source, U.S. Congress is threatening to cut off aid if the “unilateral” UN track persists.

This threat might work for a while. But enough Palestinians, among them Fatah members, feel that these donations are not benefiting them, but rather are reaching specific, elite groups only. Therefore, a U.S. threat to stop aid could actually increase Fatah’s schizophrenia – as a movement that enjoys limited and contemptible rule, on the one hand, and seeing itself as a national liberation movement, on the other.

For years, Abbas has deluded himself that the United States would act to end the Israeli occupation during his lifetime. On Wednesday, he apparently abandoned his illusions. In order that the rejection of the UNSC resolution does not encourage what the Palestinian president desperately seeks to prevent – military escalation – he must not dawdle. Therefore, the U.S. threat machine, which was particularly felt through Nigeria’s abstention, has obliged Abbas to hasten the process that he had actually hoped to slow down.

Amira Hass tweets at @Hass_Haaretz

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