Arab world not following PA’s lead - analysis

The Palestinians are set to reject the plan out of hand, but they may not have the backing of the Arab world.

King of Jordan Abdullah II addresses the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France January 15, 2020. (photo credit: VINCENT KESSLER/ REUTERS)
King of Jordan Abdullah II addresses the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France January 15, 2020.
France 24’s Marc Perelman, in an interview conducted two weeks ago with Jordan’s king, made obvious efforts to get Abdullah II to slam US President Donald Trump’s “Deal of the Century.”
But the king, who has been in close contact with the US administration about the plan and for whom a close relationship with Washington is essential to his Hashemite regime’s survival, refused to take the bait.
“I’m not too sure when they’re going to do it, but we keep hearing that sometime soon the plan will be presented,” Abdullah said. “Our job then is to look at the glass half full. How do we build on the plan, and how do we build it in such a way we bring the Israelis and Palestinians together.”
That was a careful formulation and one that did not escape notice in Washington, which will be watching carefully on Tuesday when the plan will, at long last, formally be released.
Trump, greeting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House on Monday, indicated that the plan will have the support of some Arab states.
“Many of the Arab nations have agreed to it,” he said. “They like it. They think it’s great. They think it’s a big start.”
Though this may be an overly optimistic assessment, it is clear that Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his team, who have worked on the plan for the last three years, have been in close contact with Washington’s Arab allies, and it is fair to assume that they have urged them to temper their response to the peace deal.
When released, it is clear that the Palestinians will reject the plan out of hand. They have already done so, with PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat tweeting that the plan is a “hoax and the fraud of the century.”
“It is not a deal,” he declared.
The Palestinians will be looking for support for this position from the Arab countries and are sure to get it from such organizations as the Arab League. But what will be telling is whether states such as Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates will categorically reject the deal as a sellout upon which there can be no discussion, which is the Palestinian position and which the Palestinian leadership will want to hear.
Or will they take a more nuanced approach, more in line with what Abdullah said two weeks ago about the glass being half full.
And what is the half-full glass they might focus on: that the Trump administration, which up until now has never committed itself to a Palestinian state, is doing so, and that Israel is saying “yes” to a Palestinian state on what is likely to be some 80% of the West Bank, while also agreeing to a Palestinian capital on the northern and eastern outskirts of Jerusalem beyond the current security barrier.
In formulating their responses, the Sunni Arab governments with close relations with the Washington – who want US assistance in helping them deal with the Iranian threat – will need to walk a fine line between their interest in not antagonizing the administration and in needing to placate their publics, which are sure to follow the lead of the Palestinian Authority in rejecting the plan outright.
But the lack of reactions from these states to the details that have leaked out about the plan so far is an indication that the Arab governments will be careful not to reject it as categorically as the Palestinians would want.
Abdullah’s formulation about a “glass half full” is likely to be the way some will travel.
His position was supported and explained in an editorial in The Jordan Times last week by Amer Al Sabaileh. The columnist’s words are interesting, considering the strong anti-Israel sentiment that exists inside Jordan.
Sabaileh noted approvingly Abdullah’s interview on France 24, writing that the king adopted “a new approach of tackling the issue of the peace process, where there was no rejection of plans that are currently on the table and kept open the option of a solution in the future.”
A country like Jordan, he said, “needs to be pragmatic about how important it is to be included in the decision-making process, and must ensure it is not excluded. Jordan, therefore, must adopt a flexible approach in order to be a protagonist rather than a bystander that is impacted, even if there are no benefits, or perhaps even if there are slightly negative impacts as a result of the approach. Jordan cannot afford to be perceived as a rival or be in opposition to the United States.”
While the plan will certainly be dead on arrival in Ramallah, so far there is no indication that the same will be the case in Amman, Cairo, Riyadh or Abu Dhabi. The leaders in those capitals, unlike in Ramallah, don’t have the luxury – because of their wider geopolitical concerns – to completely turn their backs on the Americans.