Abbas resignation 'could kill peace plan'

By Ben Lynfield, November 12, 2009
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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (right) has been deluged with requests from foreign heads of state to reconsider his decision not to seek another term in his office, while his own people seem indifferent.

Mr Abbas said last week that he “does not wish” to run in the January 24 elections, blaming Israel’s expansion of settlements, the US “favouring” the Israeli position and Hamas foiling national reconciliation efforts.

It was not immediately clear if the step was anything more than a ploy to muster American pressure on Israel.

Tony Blair, the international community’s Middle East envoy, met with Mr Abbas in Ramallah to persuade him to back off from his threat. He described the Palestinian leader as a man “who genuinely wants to negotiate a peace”.

Robert Serry, the UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, also met the Palestinian leader, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy asked Mr Abbas to withdraw his threat.

Analysts predicted the election will not take place on January 24, as planned, because of Hamas’s intention to thwart polling in Gaza, so that date should not be seen as a deadline. However, there is a good chance Mr Abbas may resign soon anyway, unless he receives a meaningful concession from Israel, such as a full settlement freeze.

Mr Abbas had previously resigned as prime minister in 2004 because he was frustrated that PA President Yassir Arafat and Israeli PM Ariel Sharon had blocked him from implementing his policies.

“It’s not as if he just wants to stay in his chair for eternity,” said Wadie Abu Nassar, head of the Haifa-based International Centre for Consultations.

On the other hand, Mr Abbas is aware there is no clear successor and “does not want to be remembered as one who caused chaos in Palestine”.

On Sultan Suleiman Street in east Jerusalem, residents seemed unmoved by Mr Abbas’s threat.

“The issue is not Abu Mazen,” said Rasmi Eid, a printing press worker. “There are others who could take the job.

“The issue is that anyone who is president will have the same problem, that Israel is unwilling to change its policies. We have had negotiations since 1993 with no result. There is no benefit to negotiations for the sake of negotiations while our people are suffering.”

Another man, who asked not to be identified, predicted Mr Abbas would not resign. “He is an agent of America and Israel and whatever they tell him, he will do. If he would resign now we would respect him, but what he wants is his chair and dollars.”

Last updated: 5:30pm, November 12 2009