The Israel-Palestine conflict has always been dominated by symbols, the legacy of the past and the everlasting desire to score PR points. So, today was one of those days to be remembered in the annals of the tragic conflict. A major success for Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority (PA), an embarrassment to PM Netanyahu and Israel, a potential problem to Hamas and altogether an event whose actual, continuing impact is yet to unfold.
First, the symbolic significance. It was today, 65 years ago, that the General Assembly decided to partition the disputed land of Israel/Palestine between the two protagonists. The Jews swallowed the bitter pill of having to accept a mini-state, just 3 years after the Holocaust in Europe, and without the eternal capital of the Jewish people, the Holy City of Jerusalem. To be sure, this was far from a unanimous decision, but a decision nevertheless. The Palestinian Arabs, backed by the member states of the Arab League, rejected the decision, and opened an all-out attack on the Jews, which led to their defeat in a matter of five months. Then came the invasion of five regular Arab Armies, threatening to put an end to the Jewish state established in compliance with the UN resolution. But the UN was being the UN, a theater of the absurd when dealing with Israel, so that day of November 29th was declared, years ago, an International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people. Put in sum, a prize to the aggressors who violated the UN's own resolution. So, here is the historic irony of all that.
As for current politics, Mahmoud Abbas is back, in full force and with a renewed sense of relevancy. His speech was not that of a statesman, not that of a leader who is gearing up towards peace negotiations. He never mentioned the name Israel even once, leaving "some" people, at least, to wonder if he has a problem of amnesia. But then, the speech was all about PR and why not. This was his and his people's day, and Abbas talked to them first and foremost. Also PM Netanyahu speaks these days to his own people, as he is preparing for the upcoming general elections on January 22nd, and his dismissive reaction to the spectacle in New York should be seen in this context.
Netanyahu has some explanations to make to the Israeli public, particularly as regards the vote of some of Israel's traditional allies, such as Germany, France, Italy and Britain, but his problems could be much bigger, if the U.S. abstained, or voted in favor. In Israeli politics, America is still THE STATE to look at. However, Netanyahu may not lose votes, as the Likud political/PR machine will skillfully turn the diplomatic debacle into a domestic political gain. Strange? Maybe, but welcome to Israeli politics and national mood, where to be isolated, or almost so, seem to be the normal state of affairs, a vindication of the long-held sentiment that "THEY are all against us"...
As for Hamas, they are not celebrating anymore the "victory" over Israel, something that belongs to the political folklore of the Palestinian people, which is the ability to turn military defeat to a psychological stimulant. Hamas has to deal now with its political reaction to Abbas' diplomatic victory. Their initial move was very interesting, and somewhat encouraging. They allowed Fatah of Abbas to openly celebrate in Gaza a resolution based on the principle of two states, a principle vehemently rejected by them.
So, when the bells are no longer ringing, the propaganda is over, and domestic politics are taking second pedal, can we expect to witness a real, actual change in the situation? Any possible breakthrough in the moribund peace process? In order to turn this day into a real historic day, some meaningful progress in that process should take place so that in the near future, the Palestinians will really be able to say that it was in November 29th that they finally accepted the famous resolution from November 29th, 1947.
Abbas and his people will have to understand that the realization of their aspirations require talks with Israel. Netanyahu, most likely Israel's next PM, should overcome his own right-wing potential rebels and the parties to his right, and make it easier, MUCH easier for Abbas. Today, Netanyahu saw the yellow card, soon after January 22nd he could see the red card. Hamas will have to play its role as well -- either stand on the sidelines when Abbas gets back to the negotiating table while maintaining the cease-fire with Israel, or, what will be even more significant, mend fences with Abbas and accepting his superiority.
A catalog list which by all accounts will be almost impossible to fulfill, but the attempt has to be made, so that in the near future, Palestinians and Israelis will be happy simultaneously.