Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

Cook examines developments in the Middle East and their resonance in Washington.

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Salvaging Abbas

by Steven A. Cook
July 29, 2014

U.S. President Barack Obama walks down Cross Hall with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas September 1, 2010 (Jason Reed/Courtesy Reuters).


This article was originally published here on on Tuesday, July 29, 2014.

Almost from the start of the conflict in the Gaza Strip, the commentariat has been seized with the idea of “empowering [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas” as the only way out of the recurrent violence between Israel and Hamas. The discovery of this idea in Washington (and Jerusalem for that matter) is rather odd, not because it does not make sense, but rather because the idea is so reasonable and obvious that one wonders why — ten years after he became the Palestinian leader — it took so long to recognize it. Almost from the moment of Yasser Arafat’s death, Egypt sent high-level emissaries to the United States, warning that the new Palestinian president needed help lest he gradually cede the political arena to Hamas. He did not get it then and now it is likely too late to salvage Abbas.

The only ways the Palestinian president has been able to keep his opponents at bay are through a corrupt patronage network, which ties West Bankers to the Palestinian Authority, and an American and Canadian trained security force that keeps Hamas down. He desperately needs both because Abbas has largely lost what is arguably the most important battle with his adversaries — the one over narratives. The Palestinian leader, who emerged after the death and destruction of the second intifada, surveyed the wreckage and asked how Palestinians had advanced their cause through violence. He counseled that suicide bombings and other kinds of attacks on Israelis did quite the opposite from their intended goal, compelling the Israelis to counter violence with violence and dig in deeper on Palestinian land.

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