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22 March 2018

Why did Abbas blow his fuse?

By: Daoud Kuttab
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It can be argued that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas blew his fuse on Monday, when he insulting US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and threatened severe punishment to Hamas by means of putting financial and administrative obstacles to the people of Gaza.
For those who have known the Palestinian leader, it is unusual for him to blow a fuse in such a public way. But to be fair to Abu Mazen, he has clearly decided that at the age of 83 and with the upcoming game-changing Palestine National Council’s leadership summit on April 30, he has little to lose. If he was Donald Trump, he would be calling what he did as no longer trying to be politically correct.
Politically correct has been the hallmark of Mahmoud Abbas. He has taken so many unpopular decisions over the years just to be politically correct. Since the very first day he was elected and given electoral legitimacy, he declared to the director and staff of Palestine TV his plans to clean up the screen from images of blood and the rhetoric of war and violence. When people suggested a return to the days of the Intifada, he was adamant that he is opposed to the “militiarisation of the intifada,” calling instead for civilian non-violent protests. When he was asked in South Africa if he supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, he said that he favours the boycott of the settlements rather than the boycott of Israel, insisting that Palestine has signed the Oslo Accords.
Even when pushed to declare his position on refugees, he told Israelis that although he is a refugee from Safad, he would like to visit the city rather than returning to it. He repeated the same statement in other meetings, telling Israeli peace activists that Palestinians do not wish to flood Israel with returning refugees.
Even when his own party, Fateh, and the Palestinian Central Council urged him to scrap the Oslo Accords and its central security coordination clauses, he hesitated, hoping that someone, somewhere would realise that Mahmoud Abbas is the best hope Israel and the world have for peace with the Palestinians. When he addressed the UN Security Council on February 20, he listed all of the negotiations that Palestinians had joined, saying that although he abhors walking, he would walk anywhere for negotiations.
But his moderation was taken advantage of and his actions were called the unusual term of “diplomatic terrorism” by Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Despite using the word “negotiations” 15 times during his short speech at the Security Council, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley called on Palestinians to return to the non-existing negotiating table. Someone commented that she must have been listening to Carly Simon, apparently her favourite singer, with the translation headphones she had on her head.
All of this does not count. What Israelis want to know is the actual meaning of “yekhreb baitak” and whether “ibn kalb” is an anti-Semitic curse word or simply a common insult that people use often?
US officials’ decision, most likely at the behest of its ally Israel, to save Gaza made Abbas laugh. Calling on attendees of a meeting in Washington about the humanitarian needs of Gaza, which included no one from Gaza or Palestine, to park their politics outside, the Americans wanted to find a solution to Gaza’s humanitarian crisis without asking Israel to lift its crippling decade-long siege on the strip, while demanding the participants to inspect Hamas tunnels from the Israeli side.
Surely Abbas blew his fuse. Who would not after being on the receiving end of insults, lies and misrepresentations by Israel and by the Trump administration since day one!
Abu Mazen also lost his temper because of Hamas, which stupidly went about protecting its useless rockets in Gaza at the expense of the larger good of the Palestinians. The idea that Hamas can rule underground while Abbas’ government can rule above ground is as ridiculous as the impression that Hamas rockets are strategic in the battle against Israel. Placing further pressure on Gaza is unlikely to force Hamas to surrender, but would illustrate how ridiculous the situation has become.
Mahmoud Abbas will soon exit the political stage. He has given Israel as much chance to make peace as any Palestinian leader ever had, and most likely ever will. Israelis will miss Abbas, and there will come a day when they realise the big chance for peace that they, and their American buddies, have blown.
As for President Abbas, he will regain the trust of his people and will leave the political stage having proven that no matter how peace-loving one might be, the Israelis clearly do not want to make peace. Anyone who comes after him will think twice before playing the peace game with Tel Aviv and Washington without getting anything in return. Abu Mazen blew his fuse not because he is angry at anyone, but because he is genuinely worried about where the Israelis and the Palestinians are heading, now that even his most peaceful overtures, rhetoric and actions did not earn him the chance to bring peace during his lifetime.

* A Palestinian columnist based in Amman, Jordan. - dkuttab@ammannet.net

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