Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, faces a crisis of credibility among his own people as he heads into direct talks with Israel in Washington this week.And the Quartet, including the US, is willfully blind to all of these issues that are not very far beneath the surface.
Perhaps nothing better illustrates this than a rather awkward security crackdown Thursday in Ramallah, when leftist factions convened a meeting to protest against Mr Abbas’s decision to accept the US invitation to the talks. Security officials justified the actions of dozens of plainclothes security officers, who disrupted the meeting and prevented a press conference from being held, as a legal measure against an “illegal rally”.
But privately, Palestinian Authority officials expressed their dismay at what looked to most like an effort by security services to stifle dissent.
And dissent there is.
All Palestinian political factions, bar one, have denounced the direct talks, some in harsher language than others.
Only Fatah, Mr Abbas’s own group, supports direct talks. Even among its members, though, there are plenty of disapproving voices.
Ordinary Palestinians, as well as the political factions, feel they have little influence on the Palestinian leadership’s decisions. The Palestinian polity is broken. There is no functioning parliament. The Gaza Strip and the West Bank are divided under the leaderships of rival factions. The PA government under Salam Fayyad was appointed by presidential decree and elections – presidential, parliamentary and municipal – have all been postponed indefinitely.
Even the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which is chaired by Mr Abbas and represents Palestinian interests in international forums, including negotiations with Israel, was not properly consulted about the decision to go to direct talks. The US invitation to the talks was accepted, without a quorum as normally required by the PLO’s rules, at an emergency meeting of its executive committee.
The Palestinian leadership’s subsequent attempts to justify their decision to go to talks have also been clumsy.
“There is a real leadership crisis in the Palestinian arena,” said Diana Buttu, a Palestinian analyst and a former legal adviser to the PLO, adding that it “is not responsive to the people it represents or even the factions it represents”.
“The direct talks will lead to direct failure,” Ms Buttu said. “Failure could lead to another intifada, but not necessarily one against Israel. This one might well be directed against the Palestinian Authority.”
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