There was also little optimism about a Fatah-Hamas reconciliation (and this was before the public exchange between Abbas and Meshaal which Daniel Levy wrote about for me this morning). Nobody thought that the profound gap in interests between the two parties could be bridged, particularly after the devastating impact of the PA's deferral of the Goldstone report on Abbas's popularity. Beyond that, with no meaningful peace talks in sight there was little reason for either side to make the painful concessions necessary -- whether on elections, on security sector reform, or on the existential issues of identity and commitment to negotiations.
Indeed, what I heard from a number of the more hawkish Muslim Brotherhood leaders suggests that at least some in Hamas see a greater interest in staying out. They generally admitted that Hamas faced tough conditions, with the blockade of Gaza and the escalating PA repression of its cadres in the West Bank. But that was secondary. The PA, by their argument, is in a death spiral. Talks with Netanyahu will inevitably fail, at which point Abu Mazen and the PA will no longer be able to keep up pretences. Signing on to such a PA would only compromise their own legitimacy and viability, alienating the vast mainstream of the Palestinian people without any commensurate benefits. Rather than be associated with the impending failure, they suggested, better to stay outside and wait for the fruits of that failure to fall into their lap.
I'm too tired right now to go into why exactly this is important information from my perspective--it's 5 am, I've been doing Arabic reading comprehension and a reading response on Weber's theories of charismatic authority vs. bureaucracy and discipline for four hours, and I chaired a 1.5 hour meeting today--but someday I hope all shall become clear.
Regardless, for most people this is probably the important takeaway:
Jordanian officials and the public alike are deeply, profoundly worried about the course of Israeli-Palestinian relations. Worried whispering about (or eager anticipation of) the outbreak of a new Intifada was everywhere. Confidence in Obama's ability to deliver, especially with regard to Israel, has collapsed. But most still hope that it's not too late for Obama to reverse course. His words at the UN General Assembly rallied their spirits briefly. But it won't last absent clear progress towards resuming the talks based on a clear, mutually acceptable framework for negotiations. If that doesn't happen by the end of the year, then we could be staring at the abyss.
Don't say I never did anything for you.