Analysis

Abbas Needs UN Bid to Succeed for Internal Politics, Too

Diplomatic success – however insubstantial – would make it easier for Abbas and his associates internally.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Barack Obama meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. March 17, 2014.
Kevin Lamarque, Reuters

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi’s decision Thursday to postpone a vote on its Security Council resolution left the Palestinian delegation to the United Nation devastated, a senior Palestinian official in touch with the representatives in Ramallah told Haaretz.

More than anyone else in Palestinian politics, the delegation in New York expected the United States to abstain on the resolution, rather than veto it, which would have been another point for Palestinian diplomacy. As usual, great expectations caused greater disappointment.

Last year, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his Foreign Ministry repeated their intention to submit a Security Council resolution (through the Arab League and Egypt) declaring settlement construction illegal. They waited for the right time – and hoped that just before leaving the White House, U.S. President Barak Obama would compensate for his powerlessness during his eight-year tenure.

Once, they fantasized that he would recognize Palestine as a non-UN-member country. Later, they hoped that at least he would not veto the resolution, which theoretically is in line with the official American position.

No one expected immediate concrete repercussions from the vote. Israel would not stop building in the settlements, and the UN and its members would not levy sanctions. Its significance could only have been symbolic – bringing the Palestinian issue in from the outer margins for just a few days and a rhetorical repetition of the position that the settlements violate international law. During a period when the president-elect appoints a man who financially supports the settlements as ambassador, symbolism has a defiant element.

The Egyptian proposal was important to Palestinians, because of serious tension between Egypt and Abbas over the latter’s feud with Palestinian leader Mohammed Dahlan, who sees himself as a potential successor to the president. Abbas has suggested that he sees the attempt of Egypt and other Arab states to reconcile them as illegitimate interference. The Egyptian resolution signals that there are principles that rise above personal fights. Israel’s success in pressuring Sissi reinforces Palestinian despair and reinforces its sense of isolation.

Palestinians active in the field of international law were encouraged Thursday by Israel’s nervousness over the Egyptian resolution, believing that it stemmed from the potential influence of the vote in the International Criminal Court in the Hague, which is still examining the request by the Palestinian Authority that it investigate whether Israel committed – and is committing – war crimes by the very establishment of settlements and the continued construction in them.

The court’s delay is instructive about the pressures being exerted on it or the concerns of the judges about entering into a full-frontal confrontation with Israel, especially in the Donald Trump era.

A South American diplomat said he believed that with the revent announcements by South Africa and Burundi that they intend withdrawing from the court, with other African countries expected to follow, it is possible the court will feel that it also has to judge “Ashkenazim,” as he put it – to dispel claims that it focuses only on Africa, the historic underdog.

The influence of the vote would rise in concert with the number of countries supporting it and their importance.

Diplomatic success – however insubstantial – would make it easier for Abbas and his associates internally. Some people believe that was the purpose of the resolution from the start – to show that the leadership is not as helpless as it looks: failing to prevent the killing of young Palestinians, and only able to verbally condemn settlement building and home demolitions by Israel.

Israeli soldiers killed Ahamad al Harubi of al-Bireh early Thursday morning. He was among a group of youths who confronted soldiers when they came to demolish a room in the home of Masabah Abu Sabih – a Kafr Aqab resident with Jerusalem residency status – who murdered Livna Malihi and Yosi Kirma two months ago, before being shot and killed. According to an Israeli report, Al-Harubi threw an explosive at the force. According to a Palestinian report, he threw stones at soldiers.

The raging youths who participated in his funeral looked and sounded like typical Fatah supporters, but very few Fatah flags were seen at the funeral.

Al-Harubi was preceded by Ahmad al-Rimawi, also 19, who was killed when he and other youths clashed with an army force that infiltrated their village of Beit Rima last week. At his funeral and in the homes of the mourners, or next to the homes that were demolished, complaints were whispered about the absence of the leadership as a force that can protect its people.

The humiliating postponement of the Security Council vote is yet further testimony to the weakness of Fatah and its leader. For the first time since 2007, the Palestinian legislative council met in Gaza on Wednesday, with the participation of not only Hamas representatives but also five Fatah members identified with Dahlan. (Since Hamas took over the security agencies in Gaza, Abbas has prevented the convening of the council, and it meets only in Gaza and passes laws valid only in Gaza.)

The participants declared Abbas’ decision two weeks ago to lift the parliamentary immunity of five Fatah members (among them Dahlan) as illegal and unconstitutional. The Hamas authorities allowed Dahlan supporters to protest outside the council and to express their opposition to Abbas. Thus, Hamas joined with the Fatah rejects in presenting Abbas as a tyrant who makes decisions by himself and for the sake of himself and his cronies, while they rely on their collective status as publicly elected representatives and protectors of the basic law.

The vote that was supposed to take place Thursday in the Security Council was presented as yet another step in a planned and supervised diplomatic track (which Abbas, during the recent Fatah conference, humorously called “diplomatic terror,” while aiming at the voices of the Israeli right that see any Palestinian step as a type of illegitimate warfare). Diplomatic success is very important to him – precisely because he opposes every other means of popular struggle.

Abbas and his close associates expect international compensation for their position, the internal suppression and the security coordination with Israel, which helps it. They expect compensation not only in the form of donations that partially compensate for the economic damage that the Israeli occupation causes, but also in tangible political steps. By delaying the vote, Sissi signaled them that he is not worried; that he knows that they will continue to toe the line, with or without compensation.