The Palestinian predicament: Abbas vs. America

Ramallah’s ties with Washington have deteriorated rapidly since US President Donald Trump took office. .

By MARK WEISS
February 17, 2018 12:38

Palestinian leader Abbas says Trump's 'crime' over Jerusalem precludes US peace role (Reuters)

Palestinian leader Abbas says Trump's 'crime' over Jerusalem precludes US peace role (Reuters)

When US Vice President Mike Pence visited Israel at the end of January, the Palestinians made it clear that he would not be welcome in Ramallah. The very public snub was a further indication that relations between the Palestinian leadership and the administration of President Donald Trump had reached rock bottom.

A week before Pence’s arrival, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas launched a scathing attack on the American president during a two-day gathering in Ramallah of the Palestinian Central Council, the second-highest body of the Palestine Liberation Organization. He also blamed Israel for the collapse of the Oslo peace accords, accusing it of eroding the possibility of a two-state solution.

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The council voted to call for the suspension of recognition of Israel as a response to president Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The resolution assigned the organization’s executive committee to suspend the recognition of Israel until it recognizes the state of Palestine along the 1967 borders, revokes the decision to annex east Jerusalem and stops settlement activity.

Abbas, addressing Trump, used the Arabic insult “Yehreb beitak,” which literally translates as “May your house be demolished.”

“Since when have we refused to negotiate?” Abbas asked. “We are dedicated to the path of negotiations and peace, but we will not accept dictates that the US wishes to force on us and we will not accept the US as a broker in the peace process after the crime that it committed in Jerusalem.”

He also rejected Zionism as a colonialist project, concocted by the Western powers who wanted to get rid of Jews in their countries by sending them to Palestine.

Trump, after assuming the presidency, promised to deliver the “deal of the century” to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but Abbas’s Ramallah speech appears to have left Washington’s peace plans stillborn.

“The deal of the century is the slap of the century and we will not accept it,” Abbas said. “I am saying there is no Oslo. Israel ended Oslo.”

The council also renewed its decision to suspend all forms of security coordination with Israel.

Dr. Ronni Shaked, from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Truman Institute and author of “Behind the Keffiyeh: The Conflict from the Palestinian Viewpoint,” said he wasn’t surprised by Abbas’s angry speech.

“During the last two months, President Abbas has been so disappointed and frustrated that it was only matter of time before he would say these things aloud at a large meeting of the PLO,” Shaked explained.

“The Palestinians no longer believe there will be a solution with the Trump administration. The only thing they can do is violence here and there, and go back to the UN or the Europeans, but that’s not going to work. We have to understand that the Palestinian tool box is empty. They are faced with a real deadlock.”

While withdrawing the PLO’s recognition of Israel could spark an international backlash, it remains unclear if Abbas, who also heads the PLO and the dominant Fatah faction, will implement the council resolution in full.

Hamas, which does not recognize Israel’s right to exist, welcomed the council vote, saying the “real test” would be “to implement it effectively on the ground and put in place the necessary mechanisms” to counter Israel’s activities.

Ramallah’s relations with Washington have deteriorated rapidly since Trump took office on January 20, and Abbas was reportedly livid after details of the emerging US peace plan reached him via Saudi and Egyptian officials.

After earlier declaring that Jerusalem was Israel’s capital and that he planned to go ahead with moving the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, on January 3, Trump indicated that the status of Jerusalem was no longer subject to negotiations.

“We have taken Jerusalem, the toughest part of the negotiation, off the table,” he tweeted.

ALTHOUGH US mediators have yet to make public the details of their peace plan, Abbas suggested Palestinians were being offered the village of Abu Dis, outside of Jerusalem, as the capital of a future Palestinian state, instead of east Jerusalem, as the Palestinians demand.

Abbas, in his speech to the council, also lashed out at two American officials considered pro-Israel, Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, calling both of them a “disgrace.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Abbas showed his true colors, and in so doing served Israeli diplomacy.

“He has torn off his mask and made clear the simple truth that I have been trying to expose for many years: The root of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict lies with the Palestinians’ fundamental and constant refusal to recognize a Jewish state in any borders.”

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Abbas had “lost his senses” and accused the Palestinian leader of giving up on the prospect of negotiations and opting instead for a confrontation with both Israel and the United States.

President Reuven Rivlin described Abbas’s comments as “terrible.”

While there was criticism of the council resolution and Abbas’s angry speech across the political spectrum in Israel, security officials took a more cautious approach, noting that the Palestinian leader stressed that he remains committed to a peaceful resolution to the conflict. They also expressed confidence that security cooperation between Israel and the PA would continue in the West Bank.

The day after the council meeting in Ramallah, the US State Department announced that it was withholding $65 million to UNRWA, the United Nations relief agency for Palestinians, in a move that exacerbated the already tense relations with the Palestinians.

“The US administration seems to be following Netanyahu’s instructions to gradually dismantle the one agency that was established by the international community to protect the rights of the Palestinian refugees and provide them with essential services,” said PLO executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi.

Abbas’s angry comments at the council meeting prompted much speculation that the 82-year-old veteran leader may have been setting the stage for his imminent resignation, even though there is no obvious heir apparent.

However, Shaked dismissed the possibility of Abbas voluntarily stepping aside.

“Abbas is like all the other Arab leaders: He will remain leader until he dies,” he said.

“Abbas is a leader and he has a responsibility to his people. He will not admit he has failed and step down.”


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