Play for time, Kerry tells Abbas, but why?

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has continued to heap humiliation upon himself by keeping up his now usual trick of announcing decisions and then backtracking on them almost immediately. What’s more, there is now an additional twist in the political rigmarole over Jerusalem and the remnants of Palestine, with former US Secretary of State John Kerry advising Abbas to indulge in yet another period of waiting, but why?

The Jerusalem Post reported that Kerry met with an associate of Abbas, Hussein Agha, and asked him to tell the PA leader to “stay strong in his spirit and play for time, that he will not break and will not yield to President [Donald] Trump’s demands.” The former US official also told Abbas to focus on attacking Trump personally rather than the US or the current administration. Coincidentally — or maybe not — it was also reported that Kerry is considering contesting the 2020 US presidential election.

The possibility of Kerry the presidential candidate puts the diplomatic games which the US is playing into sharp perspective. Former US President Barack Obama’s last gesture towards Palestine, after a tenure during which he propagated Israel’s “self-defence and security” narrative, was to refuse to veto UN Security Council Resolution 2334 regarding the illegality of Israeli settlements. The PA considered this to be a victory, rather than a parting act of humiliation from a presidency which prioritised war, plunder, foreign intervention and exploitation. The fact that the resolution was non-binding rendered Obama’s gesture rather pathetic in the grand scheme of things, despite Kerry’s claims to the contrary, which were promoted as a necessary change in US foreign policy.

While there couldn’t have been greater dissonance between Obama and Trump in terms of acceptable rhetoric, their actions cannot be perceived as anything other than an extension of previous support for Israel, right or wrong. While the world has exerted unprecedented effort in quoting Trump and ridiculing him, there has been little attention given to the fact that the scrutiny has been as shallow as the president himself. We have reached the point where Kerry’s overtures towards Abbas are juxtaposed in a manner that portrays exciting possibilities, rather than simply another phase that complements the current subjugation.

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It is not as if the possibility of Kerry becoming president is positive for Palestine and Palestinians. The meeting with Agha and its implications are that Palestinians should be coerced into yet more interminable waiting. The PA can then play yet another role, aiding and abetting the scenario provided by contrasting US presidencies while Israel reaps undoubted benefits from Trump’s presidency and Kerry’s ambitious manoeuvres. In order to try to alter the monotony of another default waiting phase, Kerry also suggested, “Maybe it is time for the Palestinians to define their peace principles and present a positive plan.”

The former Secretary of State might not have any qualms about his refusal to distinguish between the PA and Palestinians; this is to be expected. His play on language, however, particularly using time as the metaphor for a new beginning, is revelatory. Not because he has availed himself of an alternative concept, but due to the ease with which the US, be it through Kerry, Trump or any other former or prospective president, can dictate to the PA its plans for a colonised land and people.