Prime Minister Salam Fayyad speaking Saturday.(Khalil Mazraawi/AFP/Getty Images)
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Shalit Deal, U.N. Bid Forestall Peace Process

Palestinian prime minister admits time is far from ripe for more talks

Marc Tracy
October 24, 2011
Prime Minister Salam Fayyad speaking Saturday.(Khalil Mazraawi/AFP/Getty Images)

In addition to the normal structural obstacles, two recent events are gumming up prospects to move the peace process forward, despite the fact that Prime Minister Netanyahu reportedly offered to freeze some West Bank construction if it would re-start direct talks. One is the deal that freed Gilad Shalit last week; the other is President Abbas’ following through on threats to seek full membership in the United Nations last month. What turns out to be interesting is how both events have marginalized Abbas, who as head of Fatah and the Palestinian Authority is ostensibly the leading moderate Palestinian voice. Either way, it is hard to disagree with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who admitted in an address Wednesday in Washington, D.C., that the short-term horizon for peace looks bleak.

The Shalit deal—and many pointed this out at the time—was a huge victory for Hamas (quite simply, Hamas was able to trade one Israeli for more than one thousand Palestinians—a bargain any fantasy football league manager would have vetoed in a heartbeat); the hints that the deal might herald Hamas’ move from Damascus to Cairo further burnished the group’s credibility. Hamas and the P.A. exist in an essentially zero-sum relationship, so what’s good for Hamas ipso facto hurts the P.A., and diplomats are acknowledging that the Shalit deal contained exactly this dynamic. If you need further proof that the Shalit deal, which technically had nothing to do with the P.A., in fact lowered the P.A.’s standing, consider that Israel’s cabinet is now debating maybe freeing Fatah prisoners as well—if only to even things out! (There’s also something sickening about the fact that so far Israel is rewarding the terrorists and punishing the moderates, without even necessarily meaning to.) And if you need further proof that the P.A. isn’t really important right now, consider this statement from one Israeli government source: “We don’t want the Palestinian Authority to collapse, but if it happens, it won’t be the end of the world.”

Then again, part of the reason for this lack of interest in the moderates’ survival is Abbas’ U.N. gambit, which gave Israel less cause to do him any favors and which, circuitously, brings us back to Fayyad’s speech. He gave it at an event thrown by the American Task Force on Palestine. As Josh Rogin detailed on Foreign Policy‘s site, the ATFP, which has achieved real influence in pushing a pro-Palestinian agenda, has actually fought hardest not, say, with AIPAC or other pro-Israel groups, who actually admire the group and claim they want to work with it, but with Abbas and the Palestinians’ official group in Washington, the Palestine Liberation Organization. The source of strife? The ATFP remained neutral on the U.N. gambit. Even the folks who should be Abbas’ friends (and very few people can be said to exist) are abandoning him.

It is certainly arguable that, as Abbas has alleged, the Obama administration led him up a tree and then removed the ladder. What seems inarguable is that Abbas is now up in the tree and isn’t going to come down. The next controversy will be over UNESCO funding—the U.N. development agency stands either to refuse entry to the P.A., whose application it has already accepted, or to lose all U.S. funding (more than one-fifth its total) due to prior legislation. And if you thought Abbas would take a construction freeze and a new round of direct talks as his excuse to revoke the U.N. bid, think again: “We submitted the request,” he said over the weekend, “and we will stick to it to the end.”

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.