A Year for Elections, Not Mideast Peace

By Elliott Abrams
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Mr. Abbas, who turns 77 in March, doesn't really want Palestinian elections in 2012, but his options are poor. His United Nations efforts are now dead, for he has failed in the Security Council and backed off after his "victory" of gaining membership in Unesco served only to bankrupt that organization when the U.S. ended its funding.

He cannot find serious negotiations with Israel terribly appealing, for he knows that Hamas and other groups would quickly call every compromise an act of treason. So instead of turning back to the Israelis or the U.N., he is negotiating with Hamas, whom he hates, knowing full well that any agreement may lead to elections that Hamas might win. Logic suggests he will happily see the deal with Hamas break down (as the "Mecca Agreement" between Fatah and Hamas did in 2007) so he can postpone the May 4 elections yet again.

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A year of on-again, off-again negotiations with Hamas and with the Israelis must seem far more attractive to Mr. Abbas than elections that could boot him from office and, if Hamas wins, leave as his legacy another disastrous defeat of his Fatah party by Islamist forces. Better to delay, hang on, and see if perhaps the Israelis' fears are right-that a re-elected President Obama emerges as the champion of the Palestinian cause.

And what of Mr. Obama in this election year? He'll spend 2012 trumpeting his "unshakable" commitment to Israeli security but wondering if Mr. Netanyahu will actually hit Iran during the presidential campaign. If so, the electorate is likely to think that a tough and justifiable move, and Mr. Obama would be forced to back it and help Israel cope with the consequences. It might even help the president get re-elected if he ends up using force to keep the Strait of Hormuz open and Israel safe.

But both recent two-term presidents, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, dove into Middle East peacemaking in their second terms. That cheers up Mr. Abbas and gives Mr. Netanyahu nightmares. If Mr. Obama loses to a Republican, by contrast, Israelis and Palestinians will sit back in 2013 and wait for some sense of direction from Washington.

Thus the 2012 "peace process" won't revolve around any negotiating table in Amman. That's why when Americans pass through the Middle East, they're never asked "Will there be a peace deal this year?" Instead the questions are "Who will win?" "What will Obama do in a second term?" and, without fail, "What are you going to do about Iran?"

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Mr. Abrams, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, handled Middle East affairs at the National Security Council from 2001 to 2009.This article originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal and has been reprinted with the author's permission.

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