So You Think They Can Dance?


Absent unilateral declarations by the United Nations, the Palestinians or Israelis, both sides will have to come to the dance to forge a lasting Middle East peace. Right now, the Palestinians are resisting the invitation.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas recently announced that he will not seek another term in the elections that were scheduled for January. This empty threat by Abbas, who can be described as the Palestinian “Hollow Man,” is only another example of his significant weakness as a leader.

Since taking over five years ago after the passing of Yasser Arafat, who had consistently scuttled the peace process, Abbas has failed to achieve anything positive towards the two-state solution called for in the Oslo Accords. Right now, he can’t even get his own side to sit down and talk, despite unprecedented settlement concessions by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But no alternate leadership on the Palestinian side appears in sight. The “emptiness” ascribed to Abbas’ ploy refers to the fact that the Palestinian election commission has already cancelled the scheduled January elections. Thus, Abbas, now 74, can stay in office into the indefinite future without the bother of standing for re-election. This may be reassuring for Abbas, who has lost complete control of the Gaza Strip to Hamas, but it presents no help to the negotiation process.

It is especially distressing that the Palestinians lack a visionary and strong leader at this crucial juncture. Both President Barack Obama and Netanyahu have openly supported the creation of an independent Palestinian state, which could live in peace and security alongside the Jewish State of Israel. Moreover, with Netanyahu temporarily slowing settlement expansion, the olive branch – not the one the Palestinians demand but a substantial conciliation nonetheless – has been extended. If there was ever a real opportunity to seize the day and move forward towards a two-state solution as soon as possible, that time is now.

But the Palestinian side has once again showed its willingness to let anything and everything sidetrack progress. For instance, the Abbas announcement came on the heels of the recent Middle East visit by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Her comments lauding Netanyahu’s actions set off a firestorm of criticism from both the PA and Arab governments, prompting Clinton to make an unscheduled trip to Cairo where she met with President Hosni Mubarak. Clinton reiterated the Obama Administration’s call for a full freeze on Israeli settlements “forever” as she put it. Mubarak then agreed to support an early resumption of the peace talks between Israel and the PA. But the PA hasn’t yet acquiesced.

Abbas was also undercut by more radical elements of the PA, Hamas and Arab regimes for initially deciding not to push for United Nations endorsement of the controversial “Goldstone Report,” which one-sidedly assailed Israel for alleged “war crimes” in its efforts to strike back at Hamas for firing over 7,000 rockets into Israeli towns and cities. Under fire, Abbas caved and joined the Arab states and radical regimes elsewhere in pushing for U.N. approval of the blatantly biased report, which was condemned by both the Obama Administration and Congress.

These recent incidents demonstrate that Abbas has little backbone. For him to repeatedly cave to militants indicates that he lacks the vision and strength to articulate a path to success. True leadership requires a fixed eye on the prize, and distractions fall by the wayside for the sake of progress. That attribute is sorely lacking in Abbas.

Regrettably, at present there is no real alternative to Abbas, just as in Afghanistan there seems to be no real alternative at present to President Hamid Karzai, whose leadership of that war-torn land has been tainted by corruption as Americans are dying and wounded to prop up his regime.

It is true that Abbas, despite his many weaknesses, has maintained at least lip service to opposing terrorism and favoring a two-state solution. The Obama Administration, ably served in the region by seasoned diplomats George Mitchell and Dennis Ross, maintains its full commitment to working toward that solution. And Israel is in its way practically begging Abbas and the PA to be its dance partner. But so far, the Palestinians are looking like nothing more than petulant, passive-aggressive wallflowers.