November 5, 2009

Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Abbas 'Will Not Seek Re-Election'

November 5, 2009

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will not seek re-election in polls next year, reports suggest. Officials from the Palestine Liberation Organisation told journalists in the West Bank that Mr Abbas "insists on not running" in the 24 January election.

An aide to Mr Abbas said earlier a lack of progress in peace talks with Israel and failure to achieve reconciliation with Hamas could prompt such a move.

But another aide said PLO officials were trying to change Mr Abbas' mind. Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior adviser to Mr Abbas, told AFP news agency that the PLO's executive committee had rejected his decision and said it would still support him in the election.

Mr Abbas took over after Yasser Arafat died in 2004 and became Palestinian Authority president a year later.

But he has struggled to make headway towards a peace deal in negotiations with Israel, amid deadlock over the issue of Israeli settlements. He has also faced rivalry from the Hamas movement, which won legislative elections in January 2006 and controls Gaza.

Officials say they expect him to make a formal announcement later in the day.

In recent months Egypt has tried to broker a unity deal between Hamas and Fatah but its efforts have been unsuccessful so far. Mr Abbas had said he would call elections even if no unity deal was reached.

The four-year term of the Palestinian Legislative Council, or parliament, is due to expire in January 2010, at which time fresh elections must be held, according to the Palestinian constitution.

Mr Abbas' presidential term expired early this year.

Born in Safed in British Mandate Palestine (now northern Israel) in 1935
Studied law in Egypt and gained doctorate in Moscow
A founder member, with Yasser Arafat, of Palestinian political faction Fatah
Held security role within the PLO in the early 1970s
Appointed head of the PLO's department for national and international relations in 1980
Widely regarded as an architect of the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords
In January 2005, elected president of the Palestinian Authority

Abbas to Stand Down as Palestinian President

Times Online
November 5, 2009

Mahmoud Abbas, the increasingly isolated president of the Palestinian National Authority, announced today that he would not stand for re-election in polls scheduled for January, further unravelling US hopes for reviving the long-stalled peace process.

The announcement, made as Mr Abbas’s political standing hit an all-time low, exposed the deep Palestinian frustration at the US Administration’s failure to halt construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

It was prompted in part by remarks made last weekend by Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, who semed to cave in to Israel’s refusal to halt the growth of Jewish settlements on the West Bank.

Mr Abbas, 74, who succeeded Yassir Arafat, told a meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organisation that he would not run, his aides said.
"President Abbas has said more than once that he does not want to be a candidate because of his feelings of great frustration about the American position on the peace process," Nabil Shaath, a senior Palestinian official, said. "The Americans have abandoned their obligations."
Mr Abbas, a moderate who turned his back on the Palestinian Intifada and favoured negotiations with Israel, has seen his credibility and popularity plummet in the five years since he took power after the death of Mr Arafat, a former guerrilla leader and founder of the main PLO movement Fatah.

In 2006, Fatah, which had dominated the PLO and the Palestinian Authority set up in the 1990s, suffered a stinging election defeat at the hands of its Islamist rival Hamas. Many Palestinians were tired of the corruption and cronyism of the Palestinian Authority and turned in protest to the Islamists, who reject talks with Israel.

However, the international community rejected Hamas’s right to rule because the movement is labelled a terrorist group by the West after 15 years of suicide bombings and rocket attacks, and it rejects Israel’s right to exist.

Attempts were made to form a unity government, but the friction between the two groups erupted into war in the summer of 2007, when Hamas fighters quickly routed the disorganised Fatah forces in the Gaza Strip.

It was crushing blow to Mr Abbas's rule, whose authority was confined to the West Bank. Palestinian Authority leaders called the rift the worst catastrophe to befall their people since Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza in 1967.

However, the rift did free Mr Abbas up to restart peace talks with Israel, which had rejected any negotiations with a government that included Hamas.

Mr Abbas forged a personal bond with Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister who in 2006 had succeeded Ariel Sharon. Despite Mr Olmert’s pledges, the construction of Jewish settlements continued apace during the period, further undermining Mr Abbas.

Hamas accused Mr Abbas of being an Israeli stooge, and said it had documentary evidence of the Palestinian Authority’s collaboration with Israel which it captured in Gaza. During the Gaza war earlier this year, the Islamists accused Fatah members in the blockaded territory of sending intelligence to Ramallah, which was relayed to Israel.

When Mr Olmert was forced to quit over corruption allegations, Mr Abbas's gamble on Israel collapsed with the election of the right-wing Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu, who had to be coaxed by the international community even to recognise the Palestinians’ right to a state. He rejected previous agreements by Israel and turned back the clock on negotiations.

The death blow for Mr Abbas came when the UN released a report into the Gaza war, which accused both Israel and Hamas of war crimes. Infuriated, Israel warned that an endorsement of the report would end any hopes of peace talks resuming.

Under US pressure, Mr Abbas delayed backing it, causing outrage among Palestinians who saw his move as a betrayal of their cause and of the 1,400 Palestinians who died in the month-long war.

Realising his mistake, Mr Abbas did an abrupt about-face and backed the report, but the damage was done: he was seen as weak and isolated. Last week, he announced that elections would be held in January, but Hamas rejected the call, saying his tenure – which technically expired a year ago, but was extended by his own decree – was unconstitutional.

When Mrs Clinton said during a weekend visit that Israel – which has refused to bow to US demands for a settlement freeze – was making “unprecedented” concessions, the Palestinians saw their main precondition for resuming talks collapse.

Mrs Clinton later tried to redress her mistake, saying Israel still had a long way to go, but for the ageing Mr Abbas the future must have looked bleaker than ever.

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