Abbas's Epic Fail
If more evidence were needed that Mahmoud Abbas is bereft of any peacemaking credentials, look no further than the Oct. 20 Palestinian municipal elections, which resulted in a humiliating no-confidence vote for the leader of the Palestinian Authority.
Because of his duplicitous record on a two-state solution -- ruling it out when addressing his own people while peddling it to gullible Western leaders and mainstream media -- Abbas already had lost any credibility in the eyes of most Israelis. But the municipal elections in the West Bank have now stripped him of any remaining peacemaking credentials in the eyes of his own people.
Abbas called the twice postponed elections in a bid to shore up his Fatah party leadership. He failed miserably. In Hamas-ruled Gaza, authorities banned the elections, and boycotted them in the Fatah-administered West Bank. To make matters worse for Abbas, anti-Abbas candidates beat Fatah in Ramallah, the Palestinian "capital," as well as in Nablus and Jenin, which all are under presumed Fatah control. The elections were a godsend for Hamas.
Although these were the first Palestinian elections in six years, the turnout of under 55 percent was another setback for Abbas -- far less than the 75 percent turnout at the 2006 parliamentary elections or the two-thirds turnout in municipal elections in 2004 and 2005. It's a fair assessment that half the Palestinians in the West Bank viewed the latest elections as an Abbas-mounted Potemkin Village exercise and didn't see any point in playing along.
In El Bireh, a Ramallah suburb where Abbas cast his vote, the turnout was less than 27 percent.
All of which Hamas immediately interpreted as another grassroots setback for Abbas and his Fatah party. Parliamentary and presidential elections haven't been held since 2006, when Hamas trumped Fatah at the polls. Abbas's term in office has long since expired. Given this weekend's results, Abbas isn't about to let Palestinians humiliate him and Fatah again with another election anytime soon.
The important conclusion to be drawn from the latest elections is that Abbas has lost the final shreds of domestic legitimacy to negotiate a final-status solution with Israel. Israel would be existentially foolish to cut a deal with him, for the simple reason that any piece of paper signed by Abbas would be completely worthless. With his latest repudiation at the polls, he wouldn't have any standing to implement a peace treaty. In fact, his name on a referendum to validate a peace agreement would be poison -- for Israel and for the Palestinians.
The obvious lesson for Israel is that, while it may continue to oblige the so-called international community and press for negotiations with Abbas, its only real option is to wait for a new generation of genuinely peace-seeking Palestinian leaders and voters to succeed the present lot.
Many observers have been waiting for the "Arab Spring" revolution to materialize among Palestinians. The truth is that it already has -- in 2006 when Hamas won the last Palestinian presidential elections and this weekend when the polls shoved Abbas to the exits.
Leo Rennert is a former White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers