What are the chances that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas would ever sign a peace agreement with Israel? The answer: zero.
Abbas, who is in his late 70s, has been in power since 2005 even though his term in office formally ended in January 2009.
If Abbas did not sign a peace agreement with Israel when he was a legitimate president during his earlier four-year term in office, he is most unlikely to strike any deal with Israel now that he does not have a mandate from his people.
If he wished, Abbas could have reached a deal with the government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. But Abbas, like his predecessor Yasser Arafat, chose to turn down a generous offer that could have seen Israel relinquish control over most of the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
Abbas is not interested in reaching any deal with Israel: he knows that such a move would require him to make concessions. Abbas knows that Israel will never give him 100% of his demands; that is enough for him to refuse to sign any historic agreement.
Like Arafat, Abbas does not want to go down into history as the first Palestinian leader to make concessions, especially on sensitive issues such as refugees and Jerusalem.
In 2000, Arafat rejected Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s generous offer, which included more than 90% of the territories captured by Israel in the Six Day War.
Arafat turned down the offer because he was afraid of being condemned by Arabs and Muslims for having “sold out to the Jews.” Arafat was later quoted as explaining that if he made any concessions to Israel he would “end up drinking coffee with [slain Egyptian President] Anwar Sadat up there.”
So if Arafat, the popular symbol and leader of the Palestinians was unable to make any concessions to Israel, who is Abbas to accept anything less than 100%?
Abbas knows that in a final deal, Israel would not permit millions of Palestinians living in refugee camps to enter the country. He also knows that Israel is planning to retain control over some parts of the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
Arafat walked away from the Camp David summit in 2000 because he had been telling his people that anyone who makes concessions to Israel is a traitor.
Similarly, Abbas has also tied his hands by constantly promising the Palestinians that he would never make concessions on the “right of return” and settlements.
Abbas has even gone a step further by mobilizing Palestinian public opinion against Israel to a point where his people are not even ready to see him meeting with Vice Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz.
Abbas’s Palestinian Authority has been denouncing Israel and many of its leaders, including Mofaz, as war criminals. This is why when, two weeks ago, Palestinians heard that Mofaz was planning to visit Ramallah to meet with Abbas, hundreds took to the streets to protest.
Abbas quickly succumbed, and called off the meeting with Mofaz.
The next time Abbas plans to meet with any Israeli government official, Palestinians will once again take to the streets to protest.
The motives of the protesters are understandable. Why should they approve of such meetings while Abbas himself has been telling them for many years that Israeli leaders are war criminals and do not want peace?
If Abbas is not even able to hold a meeting with a senior representative of the Israeli government, who said that he could ever reach any peace agreement with Israel?
Abbas’s problem is more with his people than with Israel. Not only does Abbas not have a mandate to reach any deal with Israel, he has also lost much of his credibility among Palestinians for his failure to end his dispute with Hamas and to implement major reforms in his ruling Fatah faction
Today, Abbas is not in a position that allows him to sell to most Palestinians any agreement he reaches with Israel. Even if he were to bring home an agreement that includes 100% of his demands, most Palestinians would still receive it with full skepticism because it would be coming from a leader who does not have a mandate to make even the slightest concession.