Mahmoud Abbas’ real “accomplishment” was not the UN vote on Palestine

The Palestinian president has accomplished more for Israel than he has for Palestine.

Mahmoud Abbas
Early last month, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas seemingly renounced any claim to a right of return [AP]

A day after the UN voted to admit “Palestine” as a non-member state, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton publicly praised the Palestinian Authority (PA) led by Mahmoud Abbas for its collaboration with the Israeli occupation army.

Speaking at a Zionist think tank in Washington on Friday, Clinton defended the PA from criticism by Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. According to Ha’aretz Clinton said, “With very little money, and no natural resources, they [the PA] have accomplished quite a bit, building a security force that works every single day with the IDF (Israel Defence Forces). They have entrepreneurial successes. They are nationalistic – but largely secular. Israel should support them.”

This is the same “IDF” that just a few days ago was massacring entire Palestinian families in Gaza and shooting dead West Bank Palestinians who dared to protest those crimes.

And during and after its latest attack on Gaza, the same Israeli army embarked on a rampage of arrests in the West Bank, detaining hundreds of people for expressing their views. In light of Clinton’s comments, it is legitimate to ask how much the PA participated in these acts of rage and vengeance by Israel for its failure in Gaza.

Clinton could have added that daily collaboration with the occupation was not the only notable “accomplishment” of the Abbas-led US-backed PA. For years, the PA has been equipped and trained under US supervision to act as an auxiliary for Israeli occupation forces to suppress any and all forms of Palestinian resistance, to beat and suppress Palestinians expressing their views and to arrest and harass journalists who dare to criticise it. 

This is exactly the kind of repressive client regime the United States has always supported in Arab countries, and why Clinton commended the PA to her Israeli partner.

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A shameful record

The Abbas PA’s record of collaboration with Israel, against the interests of the Palestinian people is long, shameful and well documented. It includes plotting secretly with Israel, the US and the former Mubarak regime in Egypt to overthrow the elected Hamas-led Palestinian Authority after 2006, colluding with Israel to bury the Goldstone report into Israel’s war crimes in Gaza in 2008-2009, begging Israel not to release Palestinian prisoners so as not to give credit to Hamas, and more recently Abbas’ public renunciation of the Palestinian right of return, a reflection of his longstanding position in negotiations.

These harsh realities should bring into focus the misguided celebrations over the UN vote, which as I explained on Al Jazeera is at best no more significant than winning an international football match, and at worst, as Joseph Massad argued in The Guardian, ratifies a racist status quo.

Bait and switch

Quite a few people nonetheless tried to market the UN vote as a great victory, answering scepticism about it by saying it would give Palestinians access to the International Criminal Court (ICC), to hold Israeli war criminals accountable. Can anyone seriously believe that the Abbas-led PA that has done all this, and which Clinton praises for its close collaboration with the the occupation army, will do anything to bring Israeli war criminals to justice?

Already, the bait-and-switch has happened. Just a day after the UN vote, Abbas poured cold water on any such hope. “We now have the right to appeal the ICC, but we are not going to do it now and will not do it except in the case of Israeli aggression,” Abbas told reporters. While Palestinians in Gaza still mourn, and those in the West Bank struggle to retain their land as Israel and its settlers steal it, the ostensible Palestinian leader sees no Israeli “aggression”.

A hollow strategy

The emptiness of the UN vote could not have been more clearly illustrated than by what has happened – or not happened – since.

On Thursday, the UN General Assembly voted to admit “Palestine” as a non-member state. On Friday, Israel announced its intention to build thousands more settler housing units on the territory of this supposed state. What now will be the international response in the wake of the UN vote?

Other than ritual condemnations, will there be real, specific action – including sanctions – by the 138 countries that voted for “Palestine” to force Israel to halt, and begin to reverse its illegal colonisation of the 1967 occupied territories? Sadly, that is unlikely, an indication that the UN vote was nothing more than a hollow gesture and a substitute for effective action to halt Israel’s crimes.

It is also a reminder that there is no “two-state solution”. There is one geopolitical entity in historic Palestine. Israel must not be allowed to continue to entrench its apartheid, racist and colonial rule throughout that land.

What ought to give us hope are not more empty gestures at the UN, but the growing Palestinian-led grassroots solidarity movement, pushing to hold Israel accountable. This movement scored a significant milestone this week when international music legend Stevie Wonder pulled out of a benefit gig for the Israeli army after an activist campaign.

Actions like this by prominent cultural figures indicate that the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, modelled on the one that helped end apartheid in South Africa, is gaining strength and legitimacy. It is a movement based not on trading Palestinian rights for a West Bank mini-state under a dictatorial US-backed regime, but on restoring the rights of all Palestinians everywhere.

Ali Abunimah is author of One Country, A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. He is a co-founder of the online publication The Electronic Intifada and a policy adviser with Al-Shabaka.

Follow him on Twitter: @AliAbunimah