Al-Ahram Weekly Online   6 - 12 October 2011
Issue No. 1067
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

After September

Following Abbas's celebrated speech in New York, Palestinians wonder whether international support in the UN will help them attain freedom and national rights, writes Khaled Amayreh

Click to view caption
A Palestinian protester throws back a gas canister, previously fired by Israeli troops during a demonstration against the expansion of the Jewish settlement of Halamish, in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh

Palestinians are quickly returning to reality following the brief euphoria generated by Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas's landmark speech at the United Nations on 23 September.

PA officials, who have been overenthusiastic about the creation of an international momentum that would dramatically expedite Palestinian statehood, are now realising that reality is more complex than they previously thought.

This is not to say that Palestinians, including the PA, are having second thoughts about the PA bid to gain UN membership for a prospective state. Far from it, there is a great consensus among Palestinians that Abbas's speech was positive, if not impressive.

However, there is renewed realisation that speeches alone, even if eloquent, alone don't produce statehood and that a lot of struggle, bitterness, as well as sacrifices are still required to convince the world of the long-overdue entitlement of Palestinian statehood, independence and freedom.

Privately though, some PA officials don't hesitate to express their frustration and disillusionment over the fact that both the United States and Europe know that Israel is not willing to pay the price for peace.

Some other Palestinian officials lashed out at the International Quartet, accusing Middle East peace envoy Tony Blair of being excessively biased towards of Israel and of being Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's lackey.

Bassam Al-Salhi, a PLO official representing the leftist People's Party, described Blair as "a junior employee of the Israeli government rather than a representative of the Quartet".

Last week, the Quartet, which includes the US, UN, EU and Russia, called for the resumption of stalled peace talks between Israel and the PA. However, the call didn't expressly urge Israel to freeze Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Israel said it accepted the call, though reluctantly, while reserving its own interpretation and understanding of it, namely that Israel had the right to keep building and expanding settlements as part of what is known as "natural growth needs." The PA dismisses the argument as a pretext.

The world supports a stop to settlements, because settlements and peace are two parallel lines," Abu Rudeinah added. The PA official dismissed the Israeli demand for "negotiations without preconditions" as mendacious and false.

Meanwhile, visiting US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta urged Abbas to renew troubled peace talks with Israel. Panetta arrived in Ramallah Monday following his visit to Israel during which he invoked the traditional mantra of US security commitment to Israel's security. He didn't utter a word about Israel's refusal to freeze settlement expansion all over the occupied Palestinian territories.

In addition to attempting to bully or cajole the PA to swallow its pride and return to manifestly futile talks with Israel, Panetta told Abbas that the Obama administration was making utmost efforts to unblock the release of $200 million of aide to the PA, blocked earlier by Congress, under heavy pressure from the powerful Israeli lobby.

Earlier, PA officials rejected and scoffed at the congressional measure, calling it a desperate attempt to blackmail the Palestinian people and negate their free will. "If the US Congress thinks that we will sell out our rights for $200 million or $200 billion or $200 trillion, it is obviously mistaken. Let the Congress keep its money," said Abbas Zaki, a senior Fatah official.

This week, Arab League Secretary-General Nabil El-Arabi said Arab states would offer financial assistance to the PA instead of the aid that the US was threatening to withhold. "The Arabs will assist the Palestinian Authority. This will be the strongest answer to the US Congress," Al-Arabi reportedly said following talks in Cairo on Sunday with PA official Saeb Ereikat.

Luckily, talk of impending Arab financial support to the PA is proving more than just rhetoric, as it was so often in the past. This week, a generous payment of support has enabled the PA to pay full salaries to more than 130,000 civil servants, which put off a looming crisis for at least another month.

Some diplomatic sources in Cairo have intimated that several Arab capitals are increasingly fed up with the US Congress for "sticking its nose" into internal Arab affairs in order to promote and serve Israel interests. One diplomat from the Gulf said: "It seems Congress has no clue what the Arab Spring is all about."

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