Thursday night, Nov. 29, the UN General Assembly grants Palestine non-member observer status within 1967 borders by a majority vote. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has tried dismissing this upgrade as meaningless – awarding its initiator Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) nothing more than a small town sheriff’s badge. But the fact remains that this status and those borders are on the books, no matter which Palestinian government is in power, Abbas’s Fatah which rules the West Bank from Ramallah or the extremist Hamas in the Gaza Strip. And Israel now has a new headache, especially if the Palestinian entity seeks membership of the International War Crimes Court in The Hague.
For now, the Palestinians are treading carefully. They say they won’t apply as yet. However, by having Yasser Arafat’s remains exhumed in a grand military ceremony, for samples to be tested for poison in Paris and Moscow, they have set a road sign pointing to The Hague.
The Palestinians have long suspected Israel of poisoning the food given Arafat after he was confined in his Ramallah headquarters under siege in 2002. A special team of IDF officers examined every item of food and drink provided him.
Even if no poison is found and there is no proof that Israel was instrumental in his death, the case has an odd and macabre bearing on the UN vote of Nov. 29 in two ways:
1. The Palestinians have an incurable tendency to overlay their diplomacy with acts of terror. Arafat himself kept up a ferocious terrorist campaign against Israel while engaged in one round after another of “peace negotiations.” And just last week, Hamas engineered a bus bombing in Tel Aviv, recalling the bad old days of Arafat’s reign and injuring more than 30 people. The blast provided the background noise for Hamas’s acceptance in Cairo on Nov. 21 of a ceasefire, which halted their missile offensive and Israel’s eight-day operation in Gaza.
Abbas a spent force
2. Compared with the aggressive Hamas, PA Chairman Abbas, at 77, is increasingly regarded as a spent force in the Palestinian and Arab arenas. His Fatah party and the Palestinian Authority are worn out by infighting and becoming increasingly irrelevant – except as a ball for batting among Israeli politicians. Abbas is using the Arafat case and his UN initiative to show he still has muscle – if not legitimacy.
Elected president seven years ago, his term ran out, according to the Palestinian constitution, in 2009.
The illegitimate Ramallah regime
The same goes for the Palestinian Legislative Council, which was elected in 2006 in a vote that gave Hamas a majority. Since then, Abu Mazen has suspended the Council’s work. There is frequent talk in Ramallah of new elections but nothing comes of it, partly for fear of giving the rival Hamas another chance to gobble up the West Bank as well as the Gaza Strip.
So the Palestinian president and prime minister holding court in the seat of government in Ramallah lack legal authority for ruling the West Bank or representing the Palestinian people to the outside world. They are only kept in power by seven battalions of special forces financed by the US. Their corrupt administration runs day to day affairs only with the help of donations from Western and Arab governments and Israeli economic aid. Without regular Israeli cash infusions in recent months, Abu Mazen’s regime would not have covered the payroll for the members of his bloated administration and security services.
All Abbas and his Fatah have to show for the many billions which world powers showered on them over the years to make the dream of a sustainable Palestinian state come true is a failed Palestinian entity ruled by a corrupt bureaucracy, with no standing in the Arab arena.
The UN farce
It is to this entity that the UN General Assembly, which itself is losing relevance as a player in international affairs, has voted to extended a measure of legitimacy on the world stage.
The Palestinian UN Ambassador may now get a bigger office at UN Center in New York with a view of the East River. But in Ramallah, after the well-orchestrated celebrations in honor of Abu Mazen are over, nothing will change. The toxicology tests on Arafat’s remains are awaited there in the hope of some drama. But the real hub of Palestinian affairs has moved from Ramallah to Gaza City.
Pilgrimages to Gaza
On December 8, treading in the footsteps of the Emir of Qatar and Arab foreign ministers, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan pays his first visit to Gaza.
He will be accompanied by the deposed Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal. So far, he has not persuaded Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh to welcome Mahmoud Abbas as a token of Palestinian unity.
The disunity is such that when Abbas’ foreign minister Riyad Malki tried to enter the Gaza Strip with a party of Arab foreign ministers in the course of ceasefire talks, he was stopped at the Rafah crossing by Hamas security guards who denied his standing.
None of the Arab ministers interceded on his behalf. They just left him at the gate.
Erdogan will therefore not make Abbas’s company a precondition for his own Gaza visit. For him its importance lies in his being the second Muslim visitor to Gaza after the ruler of Qatar’s arrival on Oct. 23.
Most of all, it signifies his recognition of Hamas at the expense of Fatah in Ramallah as part of the burgeoning Sunni Muslim Middle East axis, which is strongly though silently endorsed by the US and Israel.
No Arab leader or foreign minister has been seen in Ramallah for some time. However, in his declining years, Abbas has left UN endorsement of Palestinian nonmember observer status ready on the shelf to be collected at some future date by Hamas – should those extremists qualify for a place in the new US-backed Sunni Middle East grouping in formation by Egypt, Turkey and Qatar.
At some future point, the dormant Middle East Quartet may wake up and revive its stipulation for Hamas to give up terrorism and its ambition to eradicate Israel – the key points of its “resistance” posture – in order to buy international acceptance.