Abbas Will Head Home With Little to Show

The Palestinian public might be too tired to embark on a new intifada. But without diplomatic achievements, the term "third intifada" might stop being taboo.

Barring last-minute changes, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to head back to the territories tomorrow with no major achievement to show the Palestinian people.

Senior Palestinian officials said that the Palestinian application to the UN Security Council for full membership in the United Nations would be submitted today, even if the the proposal does not pass. Meanwhile, a European proposal is to be submitted in the coming weeks to the General Assembly for non-member status for Palestine.

Arrest near Ramallah - Daniel Bar-On - September 2011
Daniel Bar-On

But that move is far from satisfactory for the Palestinian public, especially in light of the high expectations the PA itself fostered. Throughout the West Bank, the hope has been that Abbas' move would bring some sort of recognition in the UN, whether in the Security Council or the General Assembly, as early as this weekend. Abbas' request to the UN secretary general to present his application to the Security Council will not be considered enough of an achievement, while the Security Council will postpone its deliberations to an unknown date and even then, it is unlikely to pass.

Abbas may certainly be saddled with the responsibility for a maneuver that, at press time, still appears to have failed. It was he who went to the United Nations, knowing that he would not be likely to receive real recognition through the General Assembly. And it was he who chose to give up on the General Assembly and go first to the Security Council although he knew he would not be able to push the Palestinian application through.

But the Palestinian entourage probably did not foresee the concomitant developments which deepened the sense of failure - U.S. President Barack Obama's unequivocal stand with Israel in his speech, the lack of a majority in the Security Council for the Palestinian statehood bid, not to mention an American veto.

The Palestinian public responded only partially to calls to rally in support of the PA president on Wednesday. The PA itself did not want violent clashes between protesters and Israeli security forces, but certainly expected that hundreds of thousands would take part in the "independence" rally throughout the West Bank.

But before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman start celebrating, they probably ought to take into account the implications of an Abbas failure. Ostensibly Israel has reasons to celebrate. Obama's speech sounded more Zionist than ever. The PA leadership is on a collision course with the United States and PLO Secretary General Yasser Abed Rabbo said yesterday on Channel 2 that the Americans would no longer be able to mediate between the Israelis and the PA.

No violent clashes

The demonstration yesterday in the center of Ramallah, which focused on Palestinian hostility against Obama, illustrates this crisis even more sharply. Major violent clashes between the Israel Defense Forces and the Palestinians have not yet occurred, nor has there been an all-out international diplomatic attack on Isael. But Abbas' return to the territories defeated and almost humiliated will shake the standing of the Palestinian president, who only recently seemed stronger than ever. In many ways, if things do not change at the United Nations over the next day, the Palestinian defeat in the diplomatic area could spark violence.

That is not expected to happen for a week or two. And yet, the situation does not bode well. Palestinian criticism of Abbas and Fatah for having failed again, will only grow stronger. Hamas will use the failure to thwart any chance for Abbas to gain strength at its expense.

The Palestinian public might be too tired and too economically satisfied to embark on a new intifada. But without diplomatic achievements and with a deteriorating economy and ever-growing question marks as to wether the PA leadership can change the diplomatic situation, the term "third intifada" might stop being taboo.