Palestinian Affairs: Where do the Palestinians go from here?

Ramallah’s public denunciations and rejection of the ‘deal of the century’ will make it almost impossible for the PA to accept the plan or any part of it.

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April 18, 2019 21:14
HEADED TOWARD conflict? Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh arrives for a cabinet meeting

HEADED TOWARD conflict? Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh arrives for a cabinet meeting of the new Palestinian government, in Ramallah, earlier this week. (photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMAD TOROKMAN)

 
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As the US administration prepares to announce its long-awaited plan for peace in the Middle East, also known as the “deal of the century,” there is growing concern in Ramallah that some Arab countries may not support the PA’s position, which is vehemently opposed to the plan.

Worse, Palestinian Authority officials are worried that US President Donald Trump’s administration may be seeking to establish an alternative Palestinian leadership that would accept the deal.

That’s why the PA’s efforts are now focusing on ensuring that no Arab country or Palestinian personality take a stance contradicting its official position toward Trump’s upcoming plan.

Palestinian officials say that PA President Mahmoud Abbas has requested an urgent meeting of the Arab League, in an attempt to win Arab support for Palestinian opposition to the plan. It’s not clear yet when the Arab League would meet. However, Abbas’s request is seen as an indication of the growing concern in Ramallah that some Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Oman and the United Arab Emirates – whose leaders have close relations with the Trump administration – may “betray” the Palestinians by accepting the deal.

In recent months, Palestinian officials have been closely following contacts between representatives of the Trump administration and Arab leaders concerning the peace plan. The Ramallah-based officials are particularly worried that key Arab countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, have thus far failed to endorse the Palestinians’ fierce opposition to what they perceive to be the “biggest conspiracy to liquidate the Palestinian cause and national rights.”

The Arab response to what has been leaked about the “deal of the century” appears to be toned down in comparison with the rhetoric employed by Abbas and other Palestinian officials. In the past two years, Abbas and his representatives have repeatedly denounced the unseen plan as an “American-Zionist conspiracy,” dubbing it as “the slap of the century” and the “deal of shame.”

They have also launched scathing attacks on Trump’s “Zionist team” – US Ambassador David Friedman and presidential advisers Jason Greenblatt and Jared Kushner, whom they hold responsible for a plan they believe fully endorses the policies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Right in Israel.

At one point, Abbas went as far as denouncing Friedman as a “son of a dog,” because of the ambassador’s “support” for Jewish settlements. A senior Palestinian official was also quoted as saying that if and when peace talks are resumed between the Palestinians and Israel, the Palestinians will insist that Friedman, Greenblatt and Kushner be part of the Israeli, and not US, negotiating team because of their “blind bias” in favor of the Israeli government and its policies.

The Arab states, on the other hand, have been more restrained in their reactions to the policies and decisions of the Trump administration, including recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the relocation of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the closure of the PLO diplomatic mission in Washington, and halting US financial aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees.

Echoing increased Palestinian concern over the Arab countries’ passionless stance toward the “deal of the century,” Palestinian political analyst Hani Habib noted that Washington was consulting with some Arab states about the plan. “This means that the ‘deal of the century’ is between Washington and some Arab states – with Israel’s knowledge and support,” he remarked. “They are bypassing the Palestinians, which would cast doubt on the success of this plan, even if it were to be imposed.”

A member of Abbas’s ruling Fatah faction in the West Bank said this week that it would be a “mistake” to rely on the Arab states to stand behind the Palestinians when the Trump plan is announced.

“We’ve already seen in the past two years that some Arabs are convinced that they have good friends and allies in the Trump administration,” the official said. “These Arab leaders are not being honest with their people and the Palestinians. We’ve already seen how some of the Arab states are rushing to normalize relations with Israel ahead of the ‘deal of the century.’”

The Fatah representative and other Palestinian officials in Ramallah said that they have more confidence in the EU, Russia and China than in their Arab brothers.

“Unlike the Arabs, the positions of the EU and Russia towards the ‘deal of the century,’ which apparently rejects a sovereign and independent Palestinian state, are more powerful and unambiguous,” the Fatah official pointed out.

AS THE Palestinian leadership is scrambling to muster Arab support for its opposition to Trump’s “slap of the century,” there is growing talk in Ramallah about efforts by US administration officials to recruit some Palestinian figures in favor of the peace plan. Palestinian officials see these efforts in the context of the Trump administration’s attempt to create an “alternative leadership” to the PA and PLO – one that would cooperate with the Americans and Israel behind Abbas’s back.

“We’re aware of secret meetings that have been taking place between US officials and some Palestinians, in preparation for the announcement of the ‘deal of the century,’” said another PA official. “The Americans are hoping to find a Palestinian partner for their plan. Trump and his officials are living in an illusion, if they think that they would be able to find support among our people for their conspiracy.”


Some meetings, however, don’t seem to be taking place in secrecy and behind closed doors. In February, several Palestinian businessmen and activists attended a conference in Jerusalem under the banner “Israeli-Palestinian International Economic Forum,” where the key speaker was Friedman. The Palestinian group was headed by Ashraf Jabari, a businessman and member of a large clan from Hebron.

In his speech, Friedman described Jabari as a “man of courage and vision who is practical but committed to peace and to coexistence.” The US administration, Friedman said, “couldn’t ask for a better partner in this effort. I’m proud to call you my friend.”

In response, Palestinian officials scoffed at the meeting and Palestinian participants, denouncing them as “collaborators.” One official said that the US attempt to find an alternative Palestinian leadership reminded him of the now defunct Village Leagues, which were established in the West Bank in the late ’70s – with Israel’s blessing – as part of an attempt to undermine the PLO.

“Ambassador Friedman believes that a few Palestinian collaborators who work with Jewish settlers in the West Bank will be able to replace the legitimate leadership of our people,” the official said. “These people represent only themselves and have no following or political base.”

PALESTINIANS BELIEVE that the Palestinian leadership’s public denunciations and rejection of the “deal of the century” will make it almost impossible for any leader to accept the plan or any part of it. Abbas, they say, has already tied his hands by taking a firm and strong position against the plan in particular and the Trump administration in general.

Since Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017, Abbas and Palestinian officials have been telling their people that the Trump administration is one of the most anti-Palestinian administrations in modern history, if not ever. In addition to boycotting the Trump administration since then, they have made it clear that any Palestinian who agrees to work with the Trump administration will be considered a traitor.

But Abbas is also aware that under the current circumstances, he doesn’t have many options to thwart the “deal of the century,” especially in light of divisions among the Palestinians and the absence of an Arab consensus toward the peace plan. Even worse, Abbas is convinced that the Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip are “in collusion” with the Americans and Israel to establish a separate Palestinian state in the coastal enclave.

The only card Abbas holds at this stage is the threat to revoke all agreements signed between the Palestinians and Israel, including the Oslo Accords. In the coming weeks, Abbas is planning to convene various forums of the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah to discuss the Palestinian measures in response to the “deal of the century.” These measures, according to Palestinian sources, include revoking PLO recognition of Israel and cutting all ties with Israel, including security coordination in the West Bank.

In the past two years, PLO and Fatah institutions have recommended suspending Palestinian ties with Israel. The Palestinian leadership, however, has thus far refrained from implementing the recommendations, out of fear that such a move would lead to the collapse of the PA and spark anarchy and lawlessness in the West Bank.

“In the next phase, we will study the implementation of these measures,” said Nabil Abu Rudaineh, spokesman for the PA presidency. “It has become necessary for the Arab states and the international community to bear full responsibility in the face of Israeli intransigence.”

At a recent meeting of the PLO leadership in Ramallah, Abbas, too, hinted that the Palestinians may take drastic measures in response to the “deal of the century.” The challenges the Palestinians will be facing in the coming weeks will be serious and dangerous, Abbas is reported to have cautioned.

“Any solution that is not based on the two-state solution will be unacceptable to the Palestinians and Arabs,” said Palestinian political analyst Mahmoud Hawwash. “If the Arabs reject the ‘deal of the century,’ that will ease the pressure on the Palestinians. That would also strengthen the Palestinian position, because it will be backed by the Arabs and the international community.”

The victory of the Israeli right-wing bloc in the April 9 election has exacerbated the sense of frustration among the Palestinian leaders in Ramallah, who are saying that the two-state solution is no longer feasible. Some Palestinian officials were hoping to at least see Netanyahu removed from power or the resurrection of the peace camp in Israel as a result of the vote. The mere thought of having to deal with Netanyahu and Trump in the next few years, let alone the “deal of the century,” is the Palestinian leadership’s worst nightmare come true.

Where do the Palestinians go from here?

“It looks like we’re headed towards another Nakba,” replied a top adviser to Abbas. “Our understanding is that they want to give us limited autonomy in the West Bank and a small state in the Gaza Strip. Let’s see how the Palestinian and Arab masses respond to this conspiracy to eliminate the Palestinian issue.”

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