Strengthening Abu Mazen- a Double-Edged Sword?

In light of the American request from Israel to bolster Abu Mazen, the Reut Institute contends that an attempt at strengthening Abu Mazen not within the context of a political process may be counterproductive.

American officials told their Israeli counterparts that the U.S. has no intention of initiating or promoting any significant political process between Israel and the Palestinians. The U.S. expects Israel to try to strengthen Abu Mazen by means of symbolic gestures such as holding senior-level meetings with him, releasing prisoners, or improving conditions at the crossing points.

Reut Institute contends that an Israeli attempt to bolster Abu Mazen's position, unlinked to a wider political process, may turn out to be counterproductive.

What is the Issue?

In the aftermath of the Lebanese war and the publication of the Convergence Committee's report, Israel lacks a political agenda regarding the Palestinian issue.

Since the rise of Hamas to power (1/06) Israel has conditioned the removal of the international boycott to the PA upon Hamas' acceptance of the three political demands. Furthermore, Israel has put pressure on Hamas by arresting its ministers and representatives in the Palestinian Legislative Council.

In its previous analyses, the Reut Institute has contended that the combination of Israel's current policy vis-a-vis the Palestinians and the absence of a political agenda is liable to cause a strategic surprise in the form of either the collapse of the PA, its official dissolution or a third Intifada.

Moreover, the political vacuum becomes a fertile ground for new political initiatives, such as the one proposed by Egypt and Saudi Arabia, according to which the demarcation of the permanent borders of the Palestinian state shall precede Permanent Status negotiations under the sponsorship of the Security Council of the UN.

According to media reports, Israel and the US oppose this initiative, and currently aspire to strengthen Abu Mazen and the moderate elements.

Why is this Important? Why Now?

Many Palestinians view the struggle with Israel as a zero-sum game, i.e. what is good for Israel is bad for the Palestinians and vice-versa. The actions of Israel and the international community are commonly perceived as part of a wide conspiracy against the Palestinians.

An Israeli attempt to bolster Palestinian personas who support compromise with Israel may raise the suspicion that they serve Israel's interests. Conversely, an Israeli attempt to weaken the extremists usually builds up their political status.

Therefore, Israeli or American steps to support Abu Mazen, which are taken not within the context of a wider political process, may be counterproductive.

Moreover, while the political process remains "stuck", the Palestinian armed struggle continues. Thus, it is easier for the supporters of the armed struggle to present any Israeli concession as their own achievement.

Therefore, an attempt to strengthen Abu Mazen by means of gestures such as the release of prisoners, not through a prisoner exchange agreement, might be perceived as an achievement of the armed struggle.

Policy Options

In order to avoid the double-edged sword of an attempt to strengthen Abu Mazen, Israel may adopt the following guidelines:

  • No Free Gifts – Israeli unilateral gestures are usually understood as either an Israeli surrender to the military struggle or as a conspiracy to promote Israeli interests. Thus, if Israeli actions are the result of negotiations with Abu Mazen, they might be considered less suspicious.
  • Maintaining continuous dialogue with Palestinian officials might create a link between a gesture such as the release of prisoners and the political process.
  • No intervention in internal Palestinian politics - Israel's reference point on the Palestinian side should be the Palestinian Authority (PA) or the PLO, according to context, and not various political factions and elements within them. An Israeli attempt to strengthen Abu Mazen as the Chairman of the PA, on the expense of the PA government, might achieve a counterproductive result.