x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

A dismal and serious view from Mr Abbas

It would be easy to dismiss the recent warning by the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, that the peace agenda he advocates risks irrelevance if the relentless Israeli colonisation of Palestinian land does not cease.

It would be easy to dismiss the recent warning by the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, that the peace agenda he advocates risks irrelevance if the relentless Israeli colonisation of Palestinian land does not cease. After all, Mr Abbas has repeatedly raised alarm bells and threatened to leave his position over the stalemated peace process with Israel, only to stay in place. But as the beleaguered leader of an occupied people and a man who has rejected armed struggle in favour of negotiation, Mr Abbas deserves a hearing. And when a man whose political future depends entirely on progress toward peace explains that the current dynamics, the most influential being the expansion of Israeli settlements, will lead to the dreaded "one-state solution", it is cause for sobriety and renewed urgency.

Mr Abbas is demanding a total suspension of Israeli colonisation for three months but the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, won't budge from the nine-month partial freeze he unilaterally ordered. There is a reason for Mr Abbas's insistence on a firmer commitment: insidious settlement activity is continuing. While it is now clear that the Palestinians won't obtain what the US administration had demanded - a complete freeze of settlements while negotiations are ongoing - there is no reason why Israeli officials should continue with provocative rhetoric and symbolically-charged actions that do nothing to advance the cause of peace. For example, Israeli settlers have been planting trees in occupied lands to demonstrate that they are there to stay.

What is striking is how much the Palestinian position has matured in comparison to the continued Israeli denial of the current trajectory. In comments to The Guardian, Mr Abbas recognised that "there will be no return to armed struggle. It will destroy our territories and our country." He pointed out that Hamas, once the inflexible proponent of armed resistance, is now "talking about peace and a truce with Israel". A myopic Israel will take comfort in its military dominance to justify its inflexibility, but it is Mr Abbas who sees the farthest.

George Mitchell, the US peace envoy, was in the region last month to try to jump-start final status talks after the disappointing failure his more gradual approach in 2009. He is due to return to the region soon, hopefully with a serious peace strategy. If Mr Mitchell is to listen to what Mr Abbas has to say, a grim state of affairs awaits him.