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Mahmoud Abbas' chronic submissiveness

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By Amira Hass
Haaretz: 05/10/2009

In a single phone call to his man in Geneva, Mahmoud Abbas has
demonstrated his disregard for popular action, and his lack of faith
in its accumulative power and the place of mass movements in processes
of change.

For nine months, thousands of people - Palestinians, their supporters
abroad and Israeli anti-occupation activists - toiled to ensure that
the legacy of Israel's military offensive against Gaza would not be
consigned to the garbage bin of occupying nations obsessed with their
feelings of superiority.

Thanks to the Goldstone report, even in Israel voices began to stammer
about the need for an independent inquiry into the assault. But
shortly after Abbas was visited by the American consul-general on
Thursday, the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization got on
the phone to instruct his representative on the United Nations Human
Rights Council to ask his colleagues to postpone the vote on the
adoption of the report's conclusions.

Heavy American pressure and the resumption of peace negotiations were
the reasons for Abbas' move, it was said. Palestinian spokespeople
spun various versions over the weekend in an attempt to make the move
kosher, explaining that it was not a cancelation but a six-month
postponement that Abbas was seeking.

Will the American and European representatives in Geneva support the
adoption of the report in six months' time? Will Israel heed
international law in the coming months, stop building in the
settlements and announce immediate negotiations on their dismantlement
and the establishment of a Palestinian state in the occupied
territories? Is this what adoption of the report would have
endangered? Of course not.

A great deal of political folly and short-sightedness was bared by
that phone call, on the eve of Hamas's celebration of its victory in
securing the release of 20 female prisoners. Precisely on that day,
Abbas put Gaza in the headlines within the context of the PLO's
defeatism and of spitting in the face of the victims of the attack -
that is how they felt in Gaza and elsewhere.

Abbas confirmed in fact that Hamas is the real national leadership,
and gave ammunition to those who claim that its path - the path of
armed struggle - yields results that negotiations do not.

This was not an isolated gaffe, but a pattern that has endured since
the PLO leadership concocted, together with naive Norwegians and
shrewd Israeli lawyers, the Oslo Accords. Disregard for, and lack of
interest in the knowledge and experience accumulated in the
inhabitants of the occupied territories' prolonged popular struggle
led to the first errors: the absence of an explicit statement that the
aim was the establishment of a state within defined borders, not
insisting on a construction freeze in the settlements, forgetting
about the prisoners, endorsing the Area C arrangement, etc.

The chronic submissiveness is always explained by a desire to "make
progress." But for the PLO and Fatah, progress is the very continued
existence of the Palestinian Authority, which is now functioning more
than ever before as a subcontractor for the IDF, the Shin Bet security
service and the Civil Administration.

This is a leadership that has been convinced that armed struggle -
certainly in the face of Israeli military superiority - cannot bring
independence. And indeed, the disastrous repercussions of the Second
Intifada are proof of this position. This is a leadership that
believes in negotiation as a strategic path to obtaining a state and
integration in the world that the United States is shaping.

But in such a world there is personal gain that accrues from chronic
submissiveness - benefits enjoyed by the leaders and their immediate
circles. This personal gain shapes the tactics.

Is the choice really only between negotiations and armed-struggle
theater, the way the Palestinian leadership makes it out to be? No.

The true choice is between negotiations as part of a popular struggle
anchored in the language of the universal culture of equality and
rights, and negotiations between business partners with the junior
partner submissively expressing his gratitude to the senior partner
for his generosity.

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