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Abbas faces challenges

Feb 03,2014 - Last updated at Feb 03,2014

US Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to present the framework of a Palestinian-Israeli deal soon. 

The contents of the framework have been made public. Martin Indyk, the US special envoy for the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, told a Jewish audience in Washington that the objective of the framework agreement would be to conclude a peace treaty by the end of the year.

According to Indyk, the proposed deal will include: a phased Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, with special security arrangements in the Jordan Valley; a capital for the demilitarised Palestinian state in East Jerusalem; the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state; compensations for Palestinians and Jewish refugees; keeping some 80 per cent of the settlers under Israeli sovereignty.

At the heart of the proposed deal is no right of return for Palestinian refugees.

It should come as no surprise if Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas finds it extremely difficult to accept writing off the right of return for millions of Palestinians before the start of the talks.

Thus far, the Palestinian response is negative.

Abbas made it perfectly clear that he would not accept a deal that deprives the Palestinians of the right of return. Additionally, he is adamant that no Israeli troops will be stationed in the Jordan Valley.

The elements of the framework are hotly debated among the Palestinian politicians in order to figure out how to deal with this proposal.

It is obvious that Abbas is in a real dilemma.

If he accepts the said framework, he will face enormous Palestinian opposition and will go down to history as a “sell out”. If he turns it down, he will be blamed for the failure of Kerry’s efforts, with grave consequences.

Equally important, it is not that accepting the framework deal will automatically lead to an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Sceptics argue that the whole exercise may turn out to be a means of extracting enormous concessions from the Palestinians without a real quid pro quo.

Long-time observers of the Arab-Israeli conflict argue that the framework can only keep the negotiations on for yet another year, without achieving real success.

Apparently, the Palestinian side has been surprised.

Abbas should have sought national reconciliation with Hamas long ago. I believe that Hamas is not going to agree to this “humiliating” deal. If anything, the policy of excluding Hamas while seeking a deal with Israel has been exposed.

Earlier on, Abbas and his Fateh movement thought that a deal with Israel could enhance their status at the expense of Hamas. According to this logic, Hamas would be seen as a futile and unrealistic movement, whereas Fateh would be seen as an achiever.

Abbas’ possible acceptance of the Kerry deal will hardly project him as an achiever, however.

It remains to be seen how the framework offer will play out.

The American side understands that the Palestinian Authority is strategically vulnerable.

The turmoil in the region and the fact that key Arab states are bogged down in other crucial issues leave Abbas and his movement with little room to manoeuvre. 

Soon Abbas will have to choose among the following options: accept the deal and face the internal backlash; reject the offer and face the wrath of the American administration and perhaps of the international Quartet; or resign.

One should not forget as well that the Palestinian people may resort to a third Intifada.

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