A helicopter whirred overhead and security was predictably tight when the beleaguered president of the Palestinian National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, arrived in Oslo Wednesday. He left a tense Middle East in the middle of new conflicts and just as votes were being counted after Israel’s latest election thriller, apparently to seek more sympathy and support in Norway.
Norwegian leaders were ready to receive Abbas, with Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide meeting him for dinner and talks Wednesday night at the Grand Hotel. Prime Minister Erna Solberg also invited Abbas to dinner at her residence Thursday night and he was due to be received at Parliament, where he’ll also meet Labour Party leader (and former Norwegian foreign minister) Jonas Gahr Støre.
Abbas was also due for royal treatment on Friday, when Crown Prince Haakon, acting as regent in the absence of his father King Harald V, granted Abbas an audience. All the meetings were taking place before most of those involved head off for the opening of the UN General Assembly next week.
‘Discussing the situation…’
Norway’s foreign ministry reported that the goal of Abbas’ visit was to “discuss the situation in Palestine and in the region,” along with measures that “could strengthen the possibilities for a two-state solution” between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Norway also leads the donor group of countries that help finance Palestinian authorities (the Ad-Hoc Liason Committee) and will meet in New York next Thursday.
“Norway’s long-term commitment and central themes in the Norwegian-Palestinians cooperation will also be on the agenda in the meetings,” the ministry stated. Critics claim, however, that with Middle East peace efforts in shambles and Israel threatening to annex more Palestinian territory, Abbas now finds himself off the bigger agenda at hand.
“Everyone (Søreide, Solberg, the crown prince and others) will certainly assure Mahmoud Abbas that Norway is concerned about the Palestinians,” wrote commentator Harald Stanghelle in newspaper Aftenposten just before Abbas arrived in Oslo. Stanghelle, the paper’s former editor who has followed developments in the Middle East for years, expects the Norwegian officials to claim that the long-sought two-state solution still applies and that Norway is still strongly committed to support the project.
“It’s all well-meant,” Stanghelle wrote, “but at the same time it’s as if they’re closing their eyes to a new reality that has completely changed the Israeli-Palestinian drama.” Stanghelle thinks the Palestinians’ “dream” of having their own state, like the Israelis have, has been “totally destroyed.” Regardless of who wins the parliamentary election in Israel, “it’s highly improbable” that the shattered dream can be pasted back together.
The 83-year-old Abbas, elected 14 years ago, presides over a divided Palestinian population and is “a symbol for a failed national leader,” Stanghelle wrote, unable to establish a functioning united Palestinian government with the Islamic Hamas running the Gaza Strip. Abbas has been operating on overtime for 10 years since his last democratic mandate ran out and a new presidential election is continually postponed. The peace process that started with the failed Oslo Agreement in 1993 and won both Palestinian and Israeli leaders the Nobel Peace Prize was supposed to culminate years ago. Now it’s little more than a “mantra that repeats and repeats,” wrote the Norwegian commentator.
Norway continues to try to revive the process, but with US President Donald Trump controversially moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, allowing ongoing Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory and cutting aid for Palestinian refugees, they’re left with little hope that their situation will improve. Aftenposten noted that the Palestinians have also been left out of work on Trump’s own alleged peace plan, and fear that Trump’s careless statement “One state, two states, whatever,” shows how little he cares about their plight.
Now the world’s leaders have other things to think about as well. “It can be a bit of comfort that Norway and some other countries are still concerned about the well-being of the Palestinian National Authority,” Stanghelle wrote. “Mahmoud Abbas clings to a hope of better times for his people. Unfortunately it’s not easy to see where these times will come from.”