Abbas came to power in January 2005 determined to unify unruly Palestinian factions under his leadership and secure a peace deal that would end the decades-old conflict with Israel and establish a Palestinian state. Today Abbas presides over a divided and dysfunctional Palestinian polity comprised of a war-shattered and impoverished Gaza Strip that is beyond his reach and a West Bank that has been colonized and cantonized beyond recognition.
Abbas might have mitigated much of the damage to his leadership had he done more to put the Palestinian house in order, which has been badly divided since a brief civil war in 2007 left Hamas in charge of the Gaza Strip and his unelected Fatah faction in charge of the West Bank. Several agreements aimed at reconciling the two rival factions – which has been a central Palestinian demand since popular uprisings began toppling Arab dictators in early 2011 – remain unimplemented.
Instead of weaving together all three options – negotiations with Israel, national reconciliation, and the UN statehood bid – into a single, coherent strategy, Abbas chose to triangulate between all of them while fully committing to none of them.
The UN bid comes on the heels of yet another potentially explosive controversy. Just two days before Abbas arrived in New York, workers began exhuming the body of his late predecessor, Yasir Arafat, in order to determine an exact cause of death. And the two events may be linked by more than just timing.