US support for Mahmoud Abbas's UN bid for Palestine could save two-state solution (+video)
Mahmoud Abbas hopes to save his legacy with a bid to have the UN effectively recognize a state of Palestine. Opposition from the US and Israel is self-defeating, as the collapse of Abbas's leadership would also spell the end of a two-state solution, as well as its greatest champion.
As Gazans sift through the wreckage caused by Israel’s eight-day bombardment that ended in last week’s ceasefire, Palestinians are shifting their attention to two new controversies this week. As Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas was preparing for his historic statehood bid today at the United Nations, workers began exhuming the body of his late predecessor, Yasir Arafat, to allow doctors to perform an autopsy. While there may seem to be little connection between Mr. Abbas’s UN bid and Arafat’s exhumation, both events reveal a great deal about the current Palestinian leadership.Skip to next paragraph
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More than a year after Abbas’s initial request to the Security Council for full membership in UN, where it has languished in bureaucratic purgatory ever since, Abbas is returning to the UN to ask the General Assembly to upgrade the status of Palestine to that of a non-member state. Yet Abbas’s decision to go to the UN is not the product of a broader strategic vision but rather the lack of one.
Having tethered his political fate to the sinking ship of a US-sponsored peace process, Abbas has no place left to turn. Two decades of “peace processing” not only failed to bring Palestinians a state but have left Israel’s occupation more deeply entrenched and Palestinian institutions weaker and more divided than ever. The recent violence in Gaza has only highlighted Abbas’s impotence and growing irrelevance in Gaza, even as his West Bank authority teeters on the verge of financial collapse.
Abbas came to power in January 2005 determined to unify unruly Palestinian factions under his leadership and secure a peace deal that would end the decades-old conflict with Israel and establish a Palestinian state. Today Abbas presides over a divided and dysfunctional Palestinian polity comprised of a war-shattered and impoverished Gaza Strip that is beyond his reach and a West Bank that has been colonized and cantonized beyond recognition.
Abbas might have mitigated much of the damage to his leadership had he done more to put the Palestinian house in order, which has been badly divided since a brief civil war in 2007 left Hamas in charge of the Gaza Strip and his unelected Fatah faction in charge of the West Bank. Several agreements aimed at reconciling the two rival factions – which has been a central Palestinian demand since popular uprisings began toppling Arab dictators in early 2011 – remain unimplemented.
Instead of weaving together all three options – negotiations with Israel, national reconciliation, and the UN statehood bid – into a single, coherent strategy, Abbas chose to triangulate between all of them while fully committing to none of them.
The UN bid comes on the heels of yet another potentially explosive controversy. Just two days before Abbas arrived in New York, workers began exhuming the body of his late predecessor, Yasir Arafat, in order to determine an exact cause of death. And the two events may be linked by more than just timing.