(Sotto voce: Tell me who your friends are… The support for Saadam after Iraq invasion to Kuwait - all over again.)
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’ planned trip to Iran convention alienating every ally
Mahmoud Abbas misses no Mideastern opportunity to fall into a pothole. What can you say, the man simply has no luck. He had a terrible year: Every international, regional or domestic initiative he touched has collapsed.
Now, he arranged a new pothole for himself in the form of a presidential announcement that he is travelling to an Iran convention, on the invitation of the Iranian deputy foreign minister. Yet there’s one minor matter Abbas failed to notice: The chances that this convention, scheduled for August 30th, will indeed take place is very low.
The Iranians are trying to convene it as the historic forum of the non-aligned states, yet too many states prefer not to align themselves with Iran. For example, there is a dispute between Iran and Gulf states about the very notion of holding the event in Tehran. Yet who rushes to announce that he is traveling? Abbas. Even if the convention is ultimately held, it is doubtful that heads of state will be arriving. There is a chance, if at all, that lower ranking officials will be coming. Yet the Palestinians are already sending their president.
With the very declaration that he will be travelling to the Tehran convention, which may not even be held, Abbas is not only providing ammunition to those who object to talks with the Palestinians; he manages to annoy every ally and body that helps and donates to the Palestinian Authority. The PA receives an economic backwind from Mideastern princes and kings who despise the Iranians and fear them. It enjoys American funds, infrastructure and sympathy, and of course, the support of the Quartet – which includes the Western European states at the heart of the sanctions against Iran. So why is Abbas doing it? Because he is very weak and frustrated.
Abbas is fighting for his regime’s legitimacy in the face of world states. Hence, he will show up in every forum where he can make it clear that he is the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. The PA and Hamas have not held elections for long years, so his legitimacy is doubted even by parts of the Palestinian people. The Iranians, by the way, would certainly prefer to see an Islamist representative in the convention as the Palestinian people’s legitimate rep.
This year, the Palestinian Authority sustained another blow: The economic blow. The distress is so great that this month salaries won’t be paid there, and the PA even asked Israel to provide guarantees so that the Palestinians can get international loans. Abbas’ economic weakness leads him to Tehran, in the hopes of raising funds from non-aligned states. Should he succeed, the visit may ultimately pay off.
The Iran visit is a sort of provocation on Abbas’ part: I’m here, don’t ignore me. One can make a big deal out of it or just ignore it – Israel would do well not to blow this affair out of proportion. After all, the man is so weak. Meanwhile, the Arab world is not interested in it. What interests the Arab world in the context of the convention in Tehran is whether Egyptian President Morsi will travel to Iran. Should that happen, this would have far-reaching diplomatic significance.