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Worn out has-been or drama queen? Interpretations of the Palestinian president's threat to quit vary greatly.
Still an institution that receives more than $1 billion in international aid each year is unlikely to just go away. For that kind of money, someone will be found to keep it rolling. The threat of collapse seems like an attempt by Abbas’ friends to demonstrate how peeved he is.
So why is Abbas out of patience?
Early in the year, the new U.S. administration pushed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a true freeze on building in Israel’s West Bank settlements. Washington insisted the freeze include so-called “natural growth,” which Israel uses to expand its building in the West Bank under the guise of new housing for existing residents.
But Netanyahu didn’t cave. During an Oct. 31 visit to Jerusalem, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised Netanyahu for showing “restraint” on settlement building. Restraint, Arab leaders pointed out, is not quite a freeze.
U.S. diplomats seemed to have been slipping toward this climb down for some weeks. Abbas already called Obama late last month to complain about it. That was when he first broached the idea of quitting.
Abbas had, after all, conditioned the resumption of peace talks on a total Israeli settlement freeze. He edged out onto that high diplomatic branch because he thought the U.S. was behind him. Gradually he saw that he was going to be left on that limb.
Backing down on the settlements isn’t an option for Abbas. He’s already seen as weak and vacillating by ordinary Palestinians. Over the summer, he backed off when the U.S. pressed him not to insist on an International Court of Justice trial for Israel, after the release of a U.N. report into the Hamas-Israel war in Gaza at the turn of the year.
Palestinian public outcry forced him to shift his position. But it was too late. He appeared to have confirmed long-standing suspicions that he lacked strength. Perhaps really quitting is the only thing that will show he can make a plan and stick to it.