- Failed to turn U.S. support into pressure on Israel
By Tom Perry
RAMALLAH, West Bank, Dec 16 (Reuters) - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has little to show for his years of talking peace with Israel, and with talks now in deep freeze he seems to have hit a dead-end.
His strategy of negotiating the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel is more discredited than ever among Palestinians outraged at unending Israeli settlement building on occupied land.
By refusing to go back to negotiations unless Israel first halts all settlement construction, he has won some respect among Palestinian critics who have accused him of being all too ready to make concessions.
Relaxed and joking at a Palestine Liberation Organisation meeting this week, Abbas blamed Israel for holding up negotiations but offered no new ideas for advancing the Palestinians' decades-old statehood quest.
"He didn't outline an alternative. This keeps him in a weak position," said Palestinian political analyst Hani Masri. "There is a big crisis," he said. "Why stop negotiations if you have no alternative?"
Abbas has reiterated his opposition to any form of violence -- a stance which puts him at odds with the Hamas Islamist movement and some members of his own Fatah party. Hamas rejects the idea of any permanent peace with Israel.
For, Abbas, 74, more armed action by the Palestinians is a non-starter. When he took over after Yasser Arafat's death in 2004, one of his first steps was to rein in militants still fighting the second Intifada, or uprising.
Arafat, for decades the symbol of the Palestinian struggle, had spent his last years shunned by the United States as an obstacle to peace.
Abbas's election as Palestinian president in 2005 was welcomed by Washington, which saw him as an "Arab moderate".
Yet he has been unable to translate that support into U.S. pressure on Israel to withdraw from the lands where the Palestinians want to establish a state.
NOT A "POODLE"
Five years since his election, Abbas says the United States has not done enough for peace and is critical of President Barack Obama's administration for what he has described as siding with Israel.
"The international community is crippled," said Nabil Abu Rdainah, an aide to Abbas. "They denounce many things. We hear encouraging statements but nothing on the ground. This is the problem," he told Reuters.
Abbas was sorely disappointed earlier this year when Obama eased pressure on Israel over settlement building in the West Bank, occupied since 1967. Let down by the United States, he announced he would not stand for another term as president.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered a 10-month, partial freeze on West Bank settlement building. For Abbas, it falls far short of the full halt he has demanded.
He now faces pressure from the United States and the European Union to get back to talks.
By resisting, Abbas has repaired some of the damage done to his image in October by agreeing under U.S. pressure to sideline a United Nations report on Gaza war crimes critical of Israel .
Facing a public backlash, he later reversed course.
"He's trying to consolidate his image and say I am not a poodle of the Americans or the Israelis," said Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of the London-based al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper.
Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, remains a believer in the 1993 Oslo Accords -- agreements co-authored by him and which launched the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, though he says Israel does not really want to negotiate a treaty.
"He doesn't have an Israeli partner," Abu Rdainah said. "He believes in peace, he believes in negotiations, but he wants to know the end-game."
Still, in his failure at least one clear message had emerged, Masri said. "If Abu Mazen cannot reach peace, how will anyone else? I don't think there will ever be a president as moderate as Abu Mazen," he said.
"The West has to know that the path of peace needs two, like a tango. A responsive Palestinian party is not enough."
(Editing by Charles Dick)
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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