Mahmoud Abbas and the Arab Spring

By Jonathan Schanzer

Last month, Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi fell from power in Tripoli. Syrian dictator Bashar Assad appears to be teetering on the brink of a similar fate in Damascus. With the Arab world in full upheaval, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas may be next to feel the heat.

Until now, Abbas has been largely impervious to the troubles around him. The West Bank leader has been unencumbered as he plots for his big moment on September 21, when he plans to declare Palestinian independence at the United Nations.

But while Libyans, Egyptians and Tunisians are now getting a long-deserved taste of freedom and taking charge of their futures, for the Palestinians, Abbas is not changing a thing. After he declares independence at the UN General Assembly, jubilant Palestinians may fire AK-47s into the air in Ramallah's Manara Square, hand out sweets on the streets, flash "V" for victory signs, and sound their car horns by the hundreds, but they will see very little meaningful political impact in their daily lives.

The day after the declaration, Palestinians will realize that the vote in the UN General Assembly was non-binding. So, while two-thirds of the international community may support the idea of a Palestinian state - an idea the United States and Israel have endorsed before - that's all they'll have to show for it. An idea.

Moreover, when Palestinians look out the window and realize that the Israeli military has not withdrawn and that the borders of "Palestine" are still not settled, their frustration will really sink in. The Palestinians will see that, even after the long and dramatic build-up to the unilateral declaration, independence cannot be achieved until the Palestinians negotiate the final-status issues that Abbas has assiduously sought to avoid.

If the Palestinians wish to act on their anger, here are two potential outcomes.

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The writer is vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and author of Hamas vs. Fatah: The Struggle for Palestine' (Palgrave 2008).

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