If anybody still wonders why there has not been a two-state solution long ago to the most famous – albeit least bloody – Middle East conflict, tonight’s UN speech by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas is a good learning-curve.
Abbas says that his act of unilateralism is the ‘last chance to save the two state solution.’ But of course what he means is that he thinks it is the last chance to save Mahmoud Abbas.
For despite his talk of ‘the Palestinians’, ‘the Palestinian people’ and the ‘Palestinian state’ no such monolithic entities exist. There are already at least two major Palestinian entities, the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank, and Gaza which is governed – after a fashion – by Hamas. The latter entity has used its independent status to fire rockets at Israel and provoke its neighbour into continuous conflict. Abbas spent his speech trying to pretend that he spoke for these people. But of course such is the unity of this state of ‘Palestine’ that Mr Abbas has not even stepped foot in Gaza since his Fatah colleagues were murdered by Hamas in its bloody post-election coup five years ago. Although Abbas refuses to hold elections in the West Bank to confirm the idea, he may plausibly be said to speak for people there. His ability to claim representative status for the Gaza is more limited.
This stunt he has pulled tonight, then, is his effort to reclaim some leadership role in the wake of the latest Gaza-Israel conflict. Unlike this time last year, he has succeeded in threatening a number of major European states and Britain either to abstain or back his unilateral move, by claiming that it is either this or Hamas. So Abbas has blackmailed the Europeans to back him in his blackmail of Israel.
As Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor, wrote yesterday in the Wall Street Journal, if ‘the foundations for lasting peace are in place, Israel will not be the last nation to welcome Palestinians to the U.N. We will be the first.’
But of course the foundations for a lasting peace are not in place. Not even slightly. Firstly because one Palestinian state – Gaza – has spent the last few years under the leadership of Hamas waging war against Israel and fellow Palestinians. And because Abbas has once again demonstrated before the eyes of the world that far from being a moderating force, he is part of the Palestinians’ problem.