Sunday, November 11, 2012

Palestine Now: Mahmoud Abbas, Barack Obama, and the Upcoming Israeli vote (Israeli 2013 Election Coverage, 2)

Over a year ago, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attempted to have Palestine recognized as a full member state of the United Nations; unfortunately, the Americans vetoed this, causing many to lose hope in US President Barack Obama. A little over a year later, Abbas is planning to go back to the UN to rally up support in the General Assembly for a vote on recognizing Palestine as a non-member state. While many Palestinians have lost faith in Abbas, with time, he has shown that he is dedicated to see a Palestinian state established in the shortest time possible.

For many Palestinians, Mahmoud Abbas has betrayed them; two weeks ago, he appeared on Israeli channel two, and declared in Arabic and English that he believed in the two-state solution, and has no aspiration to return to live in Safad (Tzefat), his birthplace which is located in the northern Israel.  He declared that for him, Palestine is the West Bank and Gaza strip, with Jerusalem as its capital (shared with Israel).  This contradicts the will of many Palestinians who believe in the right of return to historical Palestine, to the lands that they lived on before the 1948 Nakbah. 

Realistically speaking, I think we all know that for now the Right of Return is not on the agenda; and if so, it would be for a limited number of people negotiated under a settlement. In any case, we are so far from a settlement that under the circumstances, those who oppose Abbas should reassess their stance. More than any other Palestinian politician, Abbas has systematically demonstrated that he is dedicated to peace and a struggle which is achieved through diplomacy. I would argue that he has made serious progress at placing Palestine on the agenda. Now that Obama has won a second term, Abbas can safely brush off Israeli claims that he is at fault for not making progress towards a peace agreement.   

Over the last almost four years, Israeli PM Netanyahu and his very undiplomatic Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, have demonstrated over and over again that they are not interested in peace (for more on Netanyahu/Lieberman and elections, click here).  While the Iranian threat is real, Netanyahu has used it as a way to divert attention from the Israeli occupation and the continued colonization of Palestinian lands. Furthermore, Lieberman has not missed an opportunity to try to delegitimize Abbas and the Palestinian authority. More recently, Israel is threatening the Palestinian authority that if they go to the UN for recognition, Israel will hold back revenues it owes them.    

The real test now begins for Barack Obama to push the Israeli government to either work towards a two-state solution, or accept the consequences: a shared state with Palestinians; in other words, a bi-national state. With the Israeli elections only two months away, a major speech concerning the Middle East is more important than ever, and if Obama does have something in mind, it needs to be stated even before the second inauguration. Let us not forget that concerning foreign policy, Obama has a golden opportunity to make change; not like domestic politics where his hands are tied by the Republican house, with foreign policy he is free to set the agenda on his own.  If he were to do this, the Israeli electorate would have the chance to see that the game of stalling is over and the time has come to take a major step at ending the occupation, or to bear the consequences. By doing this, Obama will place the peace process back on the agenda, breathing debate into the Israeli society concerning its future.  

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