Abbas' Waiting Game

[Washington Post] Jackson Diehl - As he prepared for his White House meeting last week, Mahmoud Abbas insisted that his only role was to wait. He will wait for Hamas to capitulate to his demand that any Palestinian unity government recognize Israel and swear off violence. And he will wait for the Obama administration to force a recalcitrant Netanyahu to freeze Israeli settlement construction. Until Israel meets his demands, he will refuse to begin negotiations. He won't even agree to help Obama's envoy, George Mitchell, persuade Arab states to take small confidence-building measures. What's interesting about Abbas' hardline position is what it says about the message that Obama's first Middle East steps have sent to Palestinians and Arab governments. From its first days the Bush administration made it clear that the onus for change in the Middle East was on the Palestinians: Until they put an end to terrorism, established a democratic government and accepted the basic parameters for a settlement, the U.S. was not going to expect major concessions from Israel. Obama, in contrast, has repeatedly and publicly stressed the need for a West Bank settlement freeze, with no exceptions. In so doing he has shifted the focus to Israel. He has revived a long-dormant Palestinian fantasy: that the U.S. will simply force Israel to make critical concessions, whether or not its democratic government agrees, while Arabs passively watch and applaud. Palestinians remain a long way from swallowing reality. Setting aside Hamas and its insistence that Israel must be liquidated, Abbas - usually described as the most moderate of Palestinian leaders - last year helped doom Netanyahu's predecessor, Ehud Olmert, by rejecting a generous outline for Palestinian statehood.

2009-06-01 06:00:00

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