Is Mahmoud Abbas trying to reach out to Donald Trump in his Christmas message?

“We are not the enemies of anyone; we are not the enemies of America. We want America’s friendship and good relations with it, but it should treat us justly," Abbas said.

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December 25, 2018 15:18
3 minute read.
Is Mahmoud Abbas trying to reach out to Donald Trump in his Christmas message?

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas extends his hand to US President Donald Trump at the Presidential Palace in the West Bank city of Bethlehem May 23, 2017.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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The Palestinian Authority leadership’s position toward the US administration has not changed, a PA official in Ramallah said on Tuesday.

His statement came after President Mahmoud Abbas’s remarks during Christmas Eve Mass in Bethlehem sparked a wave of speculation about a possible change in the authority’s position toward US President Donald Trump and his administration.

The PA leadership has been boycotting the administration since December 2017, when Trump announced his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

That announcement, together with the subsequent decisions to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv and cut financial aid to the PA and the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), have drawn strong condemnations from Abbas and many of his senior officials.

Abbas and the PA have since hardly missed an opportunity to lash out at Trump and his senior representatives, especially US Ambassador David Friedman and presidential advisers Jason Greenblatt and Jared Kushner.

Moreover, Palestinian officials have used every available platform to denounce and reject Trump’s yet-to-be-announced plan for peace in the Middle East, which is also known as the “deal of the century.” In their eyes, Trump’s upcoming but as yet unseen plan is part of an Israeli-American “conspiracy” to liquidate the Palestinian cause and pave the way for the establishment of a separate Hamas-controlled Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip.

Just last week, Abbas again reaffirmed his rejection of the “deal of the century” and called it the “slap of the century.”

On Monday night, however, some Palestinians said they detected a certain change in the PA leader’s tone as he was speaking during the Christmas celebration in Bethlehem. Abbas, they noted, did not use the podium to condemn Trump and his administration.

Other Palestinians went as far as saying that Abbas sounded as if he was reaching out to the Trump administration with a conciliatory message – one indicating his readiness to mend fences with the US president.

This assessment is based on Abbas’s assertion that, “We are not the enemies of anyone; we are not the enemies of America. We want America’s friendship and good relations with it, but it should treat us justly. We are not asking for more than that.”

He said the Palestinians “want Trump to backtrack on his decisions and to implement international resolutions.” The PA president went on to voice his opposition to “violence and terrorism.”


The Palestinians, he added, “stand with the US and other countries that are combating terrorism.”

It’s premature to determine whether Abbas’s remarks were part of a decision on the part of the PA leadership to tone down militant statements against Trump and his administration.

Asked whether Abbas’s relatively restrained remarks were connected to Trump’s controversial decision to withdraw US troops from Syria – a decision that has raised concern among some Israelis – a Palestinian official in Ramallah said: “That’s not unlikely.”

The official told The Jerusalem Post that there are some Palestinians in Ramallah who believe that it’s still possible to deal with the Trump administration.

“It would be a mistake to burn all bridges with Trump,” the official said. “We’re not against the US, and it would be unwise for us to engage in a confrontation with the US administration.

Our problem is with the policies of this administration, and there are some here in Ramallah who are convinced that policies can be changed.”

This somewhat optimistic assessment, however, does not seem to be shared by other PA officials and top representatives of Abbas’s ruling Fatah faction. For them, the damage the Trump administration has done to American-Palestinian relations is irreparable.

“I don’t believe there is any change in President Abbas’s attitude toward the Trump administration,” said a member of the Fatah Revolutionary Council. “The change will come only when Trump backtracks on his anti-Palestinian decisions. I don’t see Trump canceling any of his anti-Palestinian decisions, at least not in the foreseeable future,” he said.

“Meanwhile, no Palestinian leader would be able to deal with the Trump administration as long as it continues to endorse the policies of [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and treat the Palestinians as if they were the enemy of the US.”

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