"Political leaders will not take risks if the people do not demand that they do. You must create the change that you want to see," American President Barack Obama preached to us during his speech in Jerusalem, and he was most certainly right. But at the same time he calls on Israel to negotiate with Mahmoud Abbas.
Who exactly does Abbas represent, apart from himself? He was elected in the Palestinian elections organized by Israel in January 2005, and years have passed since, for all intents and purposes, his term ended. In January 2006 a Palestinian parliament was elected, but it was dissolved by Abbas because Hamas won the elections.
Given these facts, the government of resigning Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was never legitimate either, because it was never approved by parliament, which, as I mentioned, was dissolved. So who does Abbas represent? Currently he only represents himself. In other words, he is a regular person, so countries where the rule of law is enforced, such as the US and Israel, certainly cannot lend a hand to the signing of agreements with someone whose term has ended. If this is how things are now, imagine what the constitutional situation in the Authority will be like in the future - chaos with a culture of violence, or as Fayyad said in an interview with the New York Times regarding the Palestinian leadership: "This much poison is bound to cause something catastrophic. The system is not taking, the country is suffering. They are not going to change their ways and therefore I must go."
Beyond the legal problem, who does Abbas represent on the ground? He certainly doesn't represent Gaza – its Hamas rulers are his most bitter enemies. He certainly doesn’t represent Hamas in the West Bank, nor does he represent the Salafis or global jihadists. So does he represent Fatah? According to Fayyad, "this party, Fatah, is going to break down, there is so much disenchantment." It is rather odd that Fayyad leveled such harsh criticism at the Palestinian leadership, which he said was a "hostage" of its "own rhetoric," when he himself operated in the exact same manner and denied giving the interview to the New York Times, as though it was never conducted.
Still, who does Abbas represent? We must find out the answer to this question before we begin negotiating with him, not after. In other words, Israel must demand that general Palestinian elections be held for the presidency and parliament – so we'll know the person who stands before is legitimate and has a mandate from the people. Obama told us to 'talk to the peoples.' As long as elections are not held, the decisions of the current leadership, which is not elected anymore, have no legal or civil validity.
Future Palestinian leaders will claim, justifiably, that the 78-year-old Abbas conducted negotiations without any authority, so they are not bound by the agreements he had signed.
Some will claim that such elections would put Hamas in power and bring an end to the peace process – but everyone must respect the wishes of the Palestinian public. If it wants Hamas, so be it. What if Hamas rises to power after the Palestinians get territory and sovereignty? Would that be preferable? Israel and the US must know, right now, who is standing before them.
Agreements are not reached in an imaginary reality, and the demand for Palestinian elections must precede any diplomatic process, if we want this process to be genuine and binding.