On March 17, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won reelection, thanks in part to a desperate last-minute pledge to his right-wing base that the Palestinians would never get a state so long as he was in power. After the election, he tried to walk his comments back, but Palestinian observers weren’t buying it. As one person close to the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas put it, Netanyahu’s reelection marked the end of an era, “the final closing of the window of opportunity for a negotiated solution.” The insider continued: “Two years ago, [U.S. Secretary of State] John Kerry told the U.S. Congress that in a matter of a year and a half, or two years at most, the window will close. He was right. It’s over.”
Compounding the Palestinians’ frustration was the recognition that the outcome of the election didn’t even matter much: even if Netanyahu had been dethroned, the Palestinians would still have had to rely on what they consider an indifferent and ineffective Obama administration to push the stalled Middle East peace negotiations forward. No one in Ramallah, the de facto Palestinian capital, admits it publicly, but some Palestinian officials actually miss the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush, which seemed to have more influence on Israel than the current White House does. Saeb Erekat, the Palestinians’ emissary for talks with Israel and the United States, likes to note in private conversations that Bush was the first U.S. president to support a Palestinian state and the only president under whom Israel removed settlements from land claimed by the Palestinians. Barack Obama’s administration may have gotten into repeated fights with Netanyahu, but for all the hoopla, Obama has done little to create progress on the ground toward a Palestinian state.
None of this has been good for Abbas, the 80-year-old president of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the chair of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Today, Abbas is the weakest he has