Mahmoud Abbas is alive. The 82-year-old man remains president of the Palestinian National Authority. But at a luncheon discussion in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, his new biographers and everyone else present spoke of him in the past tense. The role he played in the Middle East, both in the attempts and failures to find a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, has come to an end.
Hosted by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, the discussion centered around the publication of The Last Palestinian: The Rise and Reign of Mahmoud Abbas, by Grant Rumley, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and Amir Tibon, chief Washington correspondent for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
The new book uses interviews with people in the West Bank, Israel, and Washington to form the first unofficial biography of Abbas. Tibon pointed out the players in the region have no plans of any of substance that promises an advance in Israeli-Palestinian relations. While negotiation is good in general, he did note that negotiations in recent years had not achieved much of anything.
Rumley said the Trump administration does not speak about the Israeli-Palestinian situation as much as past ones have. Across the region, he said, "good will is expiring."
In their book, Tibon and Grant argue that Abbas is the last Palestinian with a modern narrative and the last of the old school of Palestinians. He was also, they suggest, the best chance to get a peace deal. Except, of course, for the fact that he never made a peace deal during his tenure as Palestinian president. As Aaron David Miller, a vice president at the Woodrow Wilson Center, put it, "Abbas is the best partner Israel will never have."
Miller also noted that The Last Palestinian is essentially a tale of the past and, in his estimation, the book represents only 30 percent of what is going on at the present day. Both of the book’s authors mentioned their plan to write their program for a two-state solution next. Tibon noted that much reporting has been done on internal Israeli politics but not much on the internal workings of Palestinian politics, and so they decided to write history through the biography of a single person—Mahmoud Abbas.
The book was written to give a long view of Abbas, to tell the story of a leader who could not quite find a way through the historical moment in which he found himself. In the end, Abbas could not deal and deliver, and he walked away from peace offers from Israel and the United States in 2008 and 2014.