Wanted: Palestinian pragmatism

It is possible to make headway if the PA leadership is willing to be pragmatic and put aside its extreme rhetoric.

January 1, 2018 20:59
3 minute read.
Wanted: Palestinian pragmatism

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks to the media after his meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah at the Royal Palace in Amman, Jordan October 22, 2017.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Washington has largely remained silent in the face of extreme Palestinian reactions to US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Hardly a peep was heard from the Trump administration when Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared that the US, by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, had disqualified itself as a fair broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is despite the fact that the US transfers hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the PA every year.

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Nor was there a reaction when Fatah officials such as Jibril Rajoub announced that American Vice President Mike Pence, who was supposed to visit the region in December, had become a persona non grata in areas controlled by the PA. Rajoub asked other Arab leaders to follow suit. Yet this snub was largely ignored by the US. Pence’s office said that his visit was canceled due to an important vote on US tax reforms.

While the US has remained restrained, the barrage of attacks from the PA has not let up. The official Fatah Twitter account continues to share outrageous posts since Trump’s decision, as reported by Palestinian Media Watch.

On December 14, for instance, a tweet was sent out that juxtaposed a picture of Trump with one of Hitler and added, “I don’t see any different [sic], do you?” Then, during a sermon on December 20, Mahmoud Habbash, Abbas’s adviser on religious and Islamic affairs, condemned the US by saying Trump’s recognition was “rubbish” and worth less than “the urine of one Jerusalem child.”

There was no sign that – as US officials originally hoped – the extreme initial reactions from the PA to Trump’s decision were quieting down.

Despite pressure from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and perhaps other Arab countries such as Jordan and Egypt, Abbas and other Palestinian leaders refuse to tone down their attacks on the US and take seriously a peace deal now being hammered out by the Trump administration.

American silence was finally broken by US Ambassador to Israel Daniel Friedman, who noted during an exclusive interview last week with Jerusalem Post diplomatic correspondent Herb Keinon, that the Trump administration was disappointed with “some” Palestinian rhetoric which was “ugly, needlessly provocative and antisemitic.”

He added, “As we go forward, this has to change.”

Friedman was only pointing out the facts. But even this exceedingly reasonable response by Friedman led to a new round of Palestinian hyperbole, this time from Hamas, with which the PA is in negotiations to maintain a Palestinian unity government.

Reacting to Friedman’s interview with the Post, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said that Palestinians should cut all ties with the US because of Friedman’s “racist” and “ignorant” comments.

Where is all of this headed? For the time being, it seems the PA has no intention of putting the Jerusalem imbroglio behind them. Other Arab nations such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan that initially denounced the US move have since toned down their opposition. They understand that, as Trump emphasized, the move does not preempt Palestinian claims to Jerusalem or interfere with any final-status issues related to the city.

But on Sunday, the official Palestinian news agency WAFA, said Husam Zumlot, the Palestinian Liberation Organization envoy to Washington DC, would return home for “consultations.”

It would be a shame if the Palestinian leadership, out of a desire to exploit Jerusalem as a rallying point to unite the Palestinian public – and thus forget about more prosaic issues such as standard of living, health and education, to name a few – misses yet another opportunity to better the day-to-day lives of Palestinians. The Saudis and other Arab states have a vested interest in maintaining good relations with the US and Israel as their best guarantee against Iranian expansion in the region. For them, the Palestinian cause has, as a result, become an issue that needs to be resolved in order to consolidate an anti-Iranian alliance.

It is possible to make headway if the PA leadership is willing to be pragmatic and put aside its extreme rhetoric. It remains to be seen if the Palestinians miss this opportunity as well.

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