‘Weak Palestinian leadership’ undermining national goals

Leadership too paralysed to withdraw from existing agreements or end strategy of negotiations with Israel, analysts say.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas waves in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank
Abbas insists statehood will materialise only through peace negotiations [M Torokman/Reuters]

A paralysed and indecisive Palestinian leadership, faced with mounting pressure from the Americans and Israelis, is undermining key national goals, analysts say.

They say the decisions taken by the Palestinian National Council (PNC) during its meeting in Ramallah last week show that Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, lacks the will to respond to American and Israeli efforts to thwart Palestinian statehood.

While in session, the PNC took several decisions including the redefinition of relations with Israel as one of “conflict”.

It dismissed the PLO-Israel interim agreements signed in Washington and Cairo in the 1990s as “expired”, and rejected the US decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

In the past, Abbas, 82, has repeatedly insisted that the path to achieving statehood for the Palestinians lies only through peace negotiations with Israel, not armed struggle.

‘Strategic mistake’

On the face of it, the PNC decisions indicate a departure from the negotiations path, the analysts say.

However, in reality, the Palestinian leadership is too weak and fragmented to either withdraw from existing agreements with Israel or end the policy of treating peace negotiations as a strategic choice.

Mohamad Dalbah, a Washington-based Palestinian analyst, says the crisis confronting Palestinians today is rooted in the “catastrophic” Oslo agreement that Abbas and the late Yasser Arafat signed with Israel.

Oslo was a “strategic mistake” for the Palestinians, he told Al Jazeera, because it never stipulated the establishment of a Palestinian state and left open-ended the core issues of the status of Jerusalem and the right Palestinian refugees displaced by Israel in 1948.

In 1993 the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) signed the Oslo agreement with Israel and established an interim Palestinian Authority.

The Oslo Accords stipulated that within five years of the signing of the agreement – that is, in 1999 – both parties should enter into negotiations for the final-settlement status, including the issues of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees.

Twenty-five years later, Palestinians and Israelis have yet to start any final settlement negotiations.

‘Legally solid’

Jamal Zahalka, a Palestinian member of the Israeli Knesset, told Al Jazeera the decisions of the PNC are “meaningless” as long as the PA continues security coordination with Israel, which is the most important objective for Israel.

Zahalka said the current Palestinian condition, defined by a weak local government, is in the best interest of Israel but not the Palestinians because it is conducive to neither peace nor resistance.

By maintaining internal security in Palestinian areas on behalf of Israel, the PA reduces Israel’s military burden of maintaining its military occupation.

However, Abdallah Abueid, a Palestinian legal expert, says the international position of the Palestinians in light of the PNC decisions is “legally solid”.

This is because Israel has repeatedly violated the agreements, refuses to withdraw from the occupied territories and is unwilling to conclude final-status negotiations with the Palestinians, says Abueid, who teaches International law at Bethlehem University.

That being said, “Palestinians are in a very precarious position today and are unable to move forward or even go backward if they wanted to”.

Zahalka, the Knesset member, says Palestinian leaders should now take a strategic decision to reinvigorate popular and peaceful resistance to the Israeli occupation.

“Only then would Israel find itself compelled to end its illegal occupation,” he told Al Jazeera.

Issue of successor

During its session in Ramallah, the PNC also re-elected Abbas president of the State of Palestine and chairman of the PLO.

It further elected 15 members of the executive committee out of 18 representing different Palestinian factions most of whom are Abbas loyalists.

Neither the PNC nor any governing body formally discussed the issue of a successor for the octogenarian Abbas, who is reportedly suffering from multiple ailments.

According to sources familiar with internal deliberations on the succession issue, Abbas supports the separation of the powers of the PLO, the chairman of the Palestinian Authority, and the chairman of Fatah.

Abbas is in favour of having a different person to lead each body, the sources told Al Jazeera.

Follow Ali Younes on Twitter: @Ali_reports

Source: Al Jazeera