Almost 12 months ago, the PA president Mahmoud Abbas was attempting to gather international support to back its bold move that would have brought to a UN General Assembly and Security Council vote over the creation of a Palestinian State. This move generated an incredible buzz on both sides of the political spectrum and raised questions about a possible change in tactics. The Palestinian authority would have been able to pressure Israel not by the use of force but by playing the international community card. After almost a year, this calculus failed to produce any concrete result. Along with that, international and regional events have participated in further marginalizing the Palestinian issue.
If 2011 has been the year that shocked the world with the awakening of Arab populations, the rise of civil society movements and rebellions that ousted decades old dictators, 2012 is seeing the euphoria created by the revolutions slowing down and populations worldwide have now their eyes glued to the actual results of these uprisings. Will Libya fall into a civil war or will it slowly become a functioning democracy? Will Egypt undergo a major power struggle between the newly elected president and the army generals? What about Bahrain and Yemen, the two forgotten crisis? In this international climate, the noise created by Mahmoud Abbas’ move at the UN died down rather quickly to leave space to what appears to be tectonic changes in the modern Middle East. The situation in Gaza and the West Bank has a tendency to maintain a “business as usual” feeling. As nothing appears to be changing drastically, the international community’s attention along with the interest given by single Arab states is primarily focused on current crises. As the Palestinian situation remains a constant in Near Eastern power plays major efforts are made by regional actors to obtain a favorable position in the evolving political realities; thus sidelining Mahmoud Abbas’ project.
The events that are taking place in Syria and the growing risk of an all-out civil war are further obstacles to Mahmoud Abbas’ project. The three great regional actors, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia, have always been strongly lobbying on the Palestinian side. Nevertheless, as Syria is descending into a proxy war, the interest of all Middle Eastern actors, Arab or not, is increasingly focused on the support or the opposition to Al Assad’s regime. In this situation, there is little to be gained from shifting the attention back to what is likely to be a long and painful UN project which for the moment does not hold any promise of success. Even the Lebanese Hezbollah, which has built its raison d’être on waging war against the Jewish State, now having a position of power in domestic politics sees itself more entangled with the Syrian crisis than with its possibility to support one way or another the Palestinians attempts. Furthermore, the recent inabilities by the Turkish government to effectively protect its troops have casted a negative shadow over what once appeared to be a major supporter of the “Palestinian cause” and an adversary of Israel.
Playing its own cards, Hamas keeps on being a constant in Israel security issues. The weekly rocket attacks, are the proof of a situation which is not likely to change in the short term. Hamas is determined to be seen as the sole terrorist organization which relentlessly stages attacks against Israeli civilians. Its power over the Gaza strip is well asserted and the casual challenges it receives from competing Islamists movements are in no way limiting its freedom of action. Mahmoud Abbas tried to bring pressure to Israel using the diplomatic front and gained a seat at the UNESCO, Hamas prides itself of being the only major Palestinian group fighting Israel: a situation which is in no way beneficial to the PA.
In 2012, Israel may appear as a divided country. Long lasting youth demonstrations have put to the test its government and tensions between seculars and religious classes are poisoning the political life of the Jewish State. Nevertheless, with a more or less stable coalition Prime Minister Netanyahu is able to direct the Knesset in a way which further limits the Palestinians plans. The tangible security threat coming from the Sinai, the ever present risk of war with Iran, the question of expanding the draft to certain parts of the population and the evolution of the perception of Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories are all more pressing issues than the lack of direct contacts with the PA and the halt in the peace process. As the rest of the region, Israel and its government have more immediate issues than the one which Mahmoud Abbas tried to create.
A growing sense of marginalization along with the sentiment of being sidelined in the revolution that is taking place in the Middle East may be at the bases of a third intifada. As long as the regional Arab powers and the international community will not give the Palestinians the attention they think to deserve, Mahmoud Abbas and his forces will have an increasingly difficult time attempting to limit violence. In addition to that, political choices by the PA leader, such as a possible trip to Iran, indicate that he is realizing the need to shift strategy and allies as his last year plan resolved into a visible and embarrassing fiasco. With an economy in crisis and a diminished political influence, the PA president may not be able or willing to contain the anger of its people.