The following blog appeared in the New York Times “Room for Debate” section
Abbas Has Not Resigned
Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist and a former Ferris professor of journalism at Princeton University.
President Abbas’s decision not to seek another term as head of the Palestinian Authority complicates issues but it also clarifies them. The announcement comes at the end of a turbulent few weeks that saw President Obama humiliate him in New York by asking him to a photo op with Prime Minister Netanyahu and then ordering him to withdraw support for the Goldstone report, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lecturing him in Abu Dhabi and then lavishing praise on Mr. Netanyahu for the unprecedented act that the right-wing Israeli has yet to take.
The Israelis and the Americans couldn’t dream of finding a better Palestinian leader than Abbas.
The Palestinian leader has also been kicked around by radical Palestinians and the Islamic Hamas movement for his unwavering faith in a peace process that seems to be politics as usual in yet another spineless U.S. administration.
The Israelis, the Americans, the international community and any genuine proponent of a negotiated settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict couldn’t dream of finding a better Palestinian leader. Mr. Abbas has publicly attacked his own party’s hot heads declaring his opposition to the militarization of the intifada. He also mocked Hamas for its useless rockets against Israel and convinced delegates to the Sixth Fatah convention that nonviolent negotiations are the way forward.
Mr. Abbas’s frustration is understandable. Instead of the other parties responding to his moderation, they interpreted them as a reflection of the weak party to the conflict. Palestinians might be weak but they are clearly stubborn on what it is that they will not concede on.
In his public statement Thursday, Mr. Abbas laid out his own red lines: an independent state on the 67 borders including East Jerusalem and a fair solution to the refugee problem. By restating that position he has declared a shift in the paradigm. Instead of negotiations leading to a solution, he has said that his involvement in any negotiations has to be based on how to implement this universally accepted two-state solution.
Late last month, Mr. Abbas signed a decree announcing the Jan. 24 date for presidential and parliamentary elections. Two weeks earlier, he had also signed the Egyptian reconciliation agreement with Hamas in which he was willing to accept a six-month postponement of such elections if there is reconciliation. The Hamas refusal to sign that document left him with little choice but to carry out the constitutional mandate. Mr. Abbas, of course, has not resigned. Any such resignation will mean that the Hamas-supported, recently released by Israel, speaker of the Palestinian legislative council, will become president for 60 days until new elections take place.
The announcement that he will not seek another term becomes crucial only if elections will indeed take place. In 2006, Mr. Abbas refused all suggestions to the contrary and organized elections that led to the overwhelming victory for Islamists. While his and other Palestinian Liberation Organization nationalists will certainly win, it is highly unlikely that he will go ahead with such elections without Gaza’s participation and without some type of national unity agreement.