How much more bad news can the Obama administration Middle east peace team take?
Today's announcement by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas withdrawing as a candidate in next year's Palestinian presidential election leaves the administration without a Palestinian partner for the direct negotiations with Israel that seem to be slipping further and further off into diplomatic never-neverland.
But wait: is he bluffing ? Is this a ploy designed to get Washington to resume its pressure on Israel for a complete settlements freeze – pressure Obama administration officials backed away from after it backfired?
Maybe; according to an AP news story, “Abbas' careful wording left room for the possibility that he could be persuaded to change his mind, especially if he perceives the United States as backing his position on demanding an end to Israeli construction in West Bank settlements.”
But Amb. Edward Walker, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel and longtime diplomatic analyst, doesn't think so.
“It's typical of the man; he's pulled out before when things aren't going right,” Walker said. “And I don't blame him; he doesn't see any way he can make a difference in the situation.”
For an administration that began with lofty expectations of a quick jump to final status negotiations, “this is one more setback,” Walker said. “They really have to step back, recalibrate, and then find ways to reengage. They got themselves boxed in with their initial positions on settlements.”
Abbas may remain in power for a while longer, since the January elections are likely to be postponed. But as a lame duck, it's unlikely Israeli or U.S. officials will regard him as much of a negotiating partner.
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