Abbas maximizes negotiations strength in Washington
Politics is defined as the art of the possible. And in the case of the Palestinian president’s political activities, he tries to maximise the strength of the Palestinians as he and his delegation visit Washington.
To be fair, Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian side have an uphill battle. He has to convince an administration that is more biased in favour of Israel than all previous US administrations.
Palestinians are also involved in a struggle with a party that has little interest or incentive to make genuine peace based on land exchange.
Israel is economically strong and has the ability to challenge major world powers, like Germany when it wanted to meet with Israeli human rights NGOs.
Despite this difficult position, Abbas tried to do a number of things to strengthen his case.
He coordinated the Palestinian position with Jordan and Egypt regarding. Armed with the Arab League’s Palestinian independence declaration, Abbas is in Washington with strong Arab backing.
On the ground, while Palestinians are still suffering from the brutal Israeli occupation, there is no doubt that resistance is alive and well.
The prisoners’ hunger strike, going into its third week and led by fellow Fateh leader Marwan Barghouthi, has turned up the heat outside the jail cells where daily protests occur throughout the occupied territories and beyond.
The striking prisoners’ demands of better conditions won them support from Amnesty International and worldwide solidarity.
Even the Palestinian Achilles heel, Gaza, has become an asset in Abbas’ political arsenal.
The amended Hamas charter and call for an independent state on the 1967 borders is a major vindication for Abbas’ moderate policies.
Ironically, the Hamas moderation comes at a time when the Ramallah-based government is tightening the screws on the Hamas government in Gaza in the attempt to end its isolated and renegade rule over the besieged strip.
Despite Abbas’ focus on maximising his bargaining power, it is not clear whether he will have any breakthroughs during his stay in Washington.
Palestinians’ aspiration for independence is a long-term goal that needs to be preceded by a genuine settlement freeze and an end to the foreign Israeli military occupation.
The good news is that unlike all previous presidents, Donald Trump is not an ideologue.
His pragmatic deal-making attitude could provide a rare opportunity for a breakthrough if he were willing to put some political will behind his statement of wanting to make the “ultimate deal” in this Middle East conflict.
As a non-ideologue who is giving priority to American interests, Trump could be the leader that bypasses the usual political considerations that previous administrations have given when it comes to Israel and its illogical demands of continuing to rule another people by military might.
Because he has no specific ideological platform, it is possible that the US president can be swayed one way or another.
The danger, however, is that even though he might be swayed today in one direction, he might be swayed back the next day when someone else tries to influence him.
The attempts by the Palestinian delegation in Washington to establish a more serious process for talks requires an agreement on the behaviour of the parties during talks and a clearly defined end game and timeline.
It is unlikely that all these issues will be resolved in one meeting, but the signs coming out of Washington could set the stage for a diplomatically active summer and fall.
Of course, the elephant in the room is the right-wing Israeli government whose leader is facing possible legal troubles and whose political outlook leaves little opportunity for a political breakthrough.
As the number of Jewish settlers and their power increase, the possibility of any Israeli government making serious compromises that include ceding land to a Palestinian state will most likely run into the obstacle of the settlers and their powerful supporters in the Israeli government and Knesset.
Abbas has succeeded in maximising his points of strength, but the question remains whether they will be enough to sway the balance of forces to a more just and fair result on the ground that can end the decades-long occupation.