World Focus: Without Abbas, does doomsday loom?

When Western diplomats considered Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's announcement that he did not want to stand for re-election yesterday, they must have asked themselves the famous question attributed to Metternich about the death of a rival, "What did he mean by that?"

An easy answer is, "Not very much". It isn't hard to see why Mr Abbas is fed up with pretty well everybody. With all of his latter years devoted to the search for a two-state solution in the Middle East, he has nothing to show for it thanks to what he sees as Israel's obduracy. Hamas has so far refused Egyptian terms for reconciliation with Fatah. The US pressed him into orginally withdrawing a UN resolution endorsing the Goldstone report, provoking a politicially life-threatening internal backlash. And Syria, which had ironically also urged him to withdraw the motion on the opposite grounds, that Goldstone criticised Hamas, then led the charge against him when he did so.

The final straw came with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's words on the settlements. Clinton has hardly distinguished herself over the past week, but that she should have pressed Mr Abbas to enter negotiations with Benjamin Netanyahu's government even though Israel had not met the demand she had orginally endorsed – a total settlement freeze – was especially dismaying for him.

But being fed up is not the same as walking off the job. Although elections have been fixed for 24 January, few expect them to be held then, given Hamas's refusal to sign a reconciliation agreement. And Mr Abbas could change his mind. Even if he were to stop being President, he could stay as chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, the body actually responsible for negotiations with Israel. And his gambit may push the Americans into a tougher line with Israel.

But it is possible to be too sanguine. First, the doomsday scenarios – at least as Western governments see them – cannot be ruled out. What if Mr Abbas were shortly to decide, as one or two senior Palestinian officials have been muttering he might, to make a clean break and leave the Presidency in the hands of the Hamas parliamentary speaker, Aziz al Dweik?

Supposing Hamas suddenly decided to call Mr Abbas's bluff, and agreed to January elections. With Fatah divided over an alternative, or fielding a humiliated Mr Abbas, could they capture the presidency by popular vote?

Yet Mr Abbas's gamble is not empty of meaning. True, it makes it all the easier for Mr Netanyahu to claim that it is the Palestinians who are blocking talks. But Mr Abbas evidently thinks it no longer worth entering negotiations without being sure they are more than what his own Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad has called a "process for the sake of a process". As an architect of the Oslo accords, who in the 1990s watched Mr Netanyahu oppose, then see off Oslo, Mr Abbas is clearly not inclined to trust the Israeli Prime Minister.

Washington is said to be quietly working on possible negotiating parameters but meeting resistance from Israel. Used to pressure from Israel, but much less so from the Palestinians, the US may be disinclined to harden its line in those discussions. Of course, there are Fatah alternatives to Mr Abbas, most enticingly the more charsimatic Marwan Barghouti who might be much better placed to sell a deal if and when one is struck. But Mr Barghouti is in jail; and there is little sign that the Netanyhau government is ready to free him to become its "partner."

The "terms of reference" for negotiations which Mr Abbas spelt out on Thursday are not ones the West can easily disagree with, and Washington would do well not be too dismissive of them. As the Israeli commentator Ben Caspit wrote yesterday in Maariv: "Anybody mocking Abu Mazen today will be missing him tomorrow."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee