With Israel’s Gaza campaign against Hamas and the Israeli election in the past, Israel must now contend with its next challenge – Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority.
Although Mr. Abbas has been broadly touted as a “moderate” peace partner for Israel who can lead Fatah to the establishment of a Palestinian state, he has used the last few months to engage in an international campaign to delegitimize and weaken Israel – especially in the past few weeks.
His actions have focused overtly on two separate issues motivated by different, if overlapping, concerns:
In recent weeks, as a result of the Israeli military action in Gaza, the international focus has been on Hamas and not on the PA in the West Bank. Mr. Abbas has shown alarm at the possibility of a softening of international sanctions against Hamas and the rival faction’s involvement in rebuilding of Gaza. Both of these measures would bring Hamas increasing international legitimacy and weaken Fatah’s position as “the” legitimate Palestinian authority.
Mr. Abbas has thus sought to keep his faction, Fatah, center-stage in public awareness and show the PA acts decisively and with influence on behalf of the people of Gaza.
On January 27, after a meeting in the Mukata, his headquarters in Ramallah, Mr. Abbas held a press conference, during which he said:
“Israel does not want peace, otherwise it would not have done this. We need to understand this and tell it to those coming from Europe and America… We will do all we can to prove Israel committed crimes [according to Geneva Conventions] that would make your skin crawl… We appealed to international war crimes courts and called for setting up a query to investigate these war crimes. We’ll do our best to prove that Israel committed awful and disgusting crimes.”
Sources at the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center (JMCC) have confirmed representatives of the Palestinian Authority have approached the International Court of Justice with an eye toward charging Israel with war crimes. Formalities, which require submission of an application, are being pursued.
On February 4, during an address to the European Parliament, Mr. Abbas called on for an investigation against Israel for “war crimes” committed during the Gaza operation:
“We must do our utmost to ensure Israel is compelled to take responsibility for the horrific crimes… There are crimes and people who committed those crimes have to be held responsible so that these crimes cannot be repeated.”
According to a Ramallah-based journalist, the leaders of the Palestinian Authority recognize that the Annapolis plan for peace is dead – that its negotiations are stalemated and there is no way to advance them. Other means of advancing its agenda and pushing Israel to make concessions are now being sought.
A report in Tuesday’s edition of Ha’aretz details Mr. Abbas’ approach. His tactics have largely focused on diplomatic isolation of a right-wing government, should it be established, led by Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu.
“Abbas has been trying to convince the international community that such an Israeli government must face conditions similar to those faced by the Hamas government,” the newspaper said. “…The Palestinian Authority prepared a plan for ‘diplomatic resistance’ to Israel. The purpose of the plan is to offer an alternative to the ‘military resistance’ of Hamas and preserve Fatah as a relevant force, even in the absence of a peace process.
“Abbas met last week with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and [shared]… his deep concerns about the establishment in Israel of a right-wing government headed by Netanyahu. Abbas stressed that such a development means a deathblow to the peace process.
“…During all his meetings, Abbas compared a right-wing government in Israel to the Palestinian unity government of Fatah and Hamas, which followed the Mecca Accords in 2007. ‘You refused to fully cooperate with such a government because Hamas did not meet the Quartet’s conditions on ending terrorism and recognizing Israel,’ Abbas told the European leaders. ‘You will have to adopt a similar stance toward an Israeli government that will oppose the creation of a Palestinian state and genuine negotiations over the core issues of a permanent settlement,’ he added.”
Mr. Abbas said should a right-wing government come to power in Israel, it should receive the same sort of sanctions that have been imposed on the Hamas government or apartheid-era South Africa.
The bottom line: As the new Israeli government prepares for new negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, it may now face an unexpected hard-line leader in the personage of Mahmoud Abbas.