Delayed annexation is a minor Palestinian victory

PALESTINIAN AFFAIRS: PA leaders say their diplomatic efforts forced Netanyahu to backtrack on July 1 annexation.

PALESTINIAN DEMONSTRATORS take part in a ‘day of rage’ rally to protest against Israel’s annexation plan, in Gaza City. (photo credit: MOHAMMED SALEM/REUTERS)
PALESTINIAN DEMONSTRATORS take part in a ‘day of rage’ rally to protest against Israel’s annexation plan, in Gaza City.
The mood was upbeat at the Mukata presidential compound in Ramallah on Wednesday night, as the much touted July 1 milestone ended without an announcement by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regarding the extension of Israeli sovereignty to parts of the West Bank.
Palestinian officials are convinced that the diplomatic campaign they waged in the past few months against the annexation plan forced Netanyahu to backpedal on his long-awaited announcement.
The officials, however, warned that the sense of triumph may be short-lived because the Israeli government has not completely abandoned its intention to apply sovereignty to some areas of the West Bank.
In fact, the officials said, the battle against annexation has still not ended, and that’s why the Palestinians must remain on alert.
As one official, quoting from a song recorded, written and produced by American rocker Lenny Kravitz, put it: “It Ain’t Over ’til It’s Over.”
“True, today is July 1 and Netanyahu didn’t announce the annexation plan,” said Mahmoud Aloul, deputy chairman of the ruling Fatah faction.
“But that does not mean that he has backtracked. He has his own plans to create new facts on the ground, especially through settlement construction, and these have always been a pillar of his policy. The fact that Netanyahu did not make an announcement does not mean that we should go to sleep on a silk pillowcase. It also doesn’t mean that we have achieved victory. Indeed, we scored a victory through our ability to remain steadfast in the face of the annexation plan, but the danger continues to exist. We need to continue the struggle to prevent the annexation from taking place.”
Aloul, like many Palestinian officials in the Mukata, believes that the “obstinate” and “solid” position of the Palestinian leadership played a major role in deterring Netanyahu from proceeding with the annexation plan.
This position, they argue, was first expressed in Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s May 18 announcement regarding the renunciation of agreements and understandings with Israel and the US, including security cooperation.
Abbas loyalists like to drive home the point that his threat to walk away from the agreements with Israel was one of the main reasons that Netanyahu appeared to be holding back on the annexation announcement.
A former adviser to Abbas claimed that Abbas’s “dramatic and historic” announcement sent a very strong message to Israel.
“The Israelis know that the annulment of the agreements [with the Palestinians] means that the Palestinian Authority would cease to exist. Consequently, Israel will have to assume full responsibilities over the Palestinian population. I don’t think most Israelis want to return to the pre-1993 era, when Israel was in charge of the Palestinian population.”
The adviser claimed that Abbas’s announcement also struck a chord with many in the international community, whose representatives pleaded with the Palestinian leadership to give them a chance to pressure or persuade the Israeli government to abandon the annexation plan.
“Many parties told us that we need to be patient and wait because the annexation may not happen,” Aloul said. “They told us that we need to display flexibility, but the position of President Abbas and the Palestinian leadership was decisive, and we said that we are absolved of all the agreements [with Israel and the US].”
Aloul and several Palestinian officials praised the stance of the international community toward the annexation plan as “above all expectations” and “unimaginable.”
“We need to learn a lesson from the stance of the international community, specifically the Europeans,” Aloul remarked. “Our Arab brothers need to learn from the international community. Is it conceivable that the position of the Europeans is better than that of our Arab brothers? I don’t want to go into details about this subject, although we thank our Arab brothers for their positions and statements in support of the Palestinians.”
The veteran Fatah leader, who is touted as a potential successor to Abbas, hinted that Israel and other “hostile” parties were behind a smear campaign on social media platforms targeting the Palestinian leadership because of its rejection of the annexation plan. The campaign, he claimed, was primarily aimed at “undermining Palestinian unity.”
A PLO official in Ramallah said that while it is premature to talk about a Palestinian “victory,” Netanyahu’s failure to announce the annexation plan on July 1 was nevertheless “a huge achievement for Palestinian diplomacy.”
“We succeeded in building a broad international coalition against the annexation plan,” the official said. “President Abbas, Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh and many PLO officials worked around the clock in the past few weeks to build this coalition. I would like to commend the Europeans, particularly Britain, Germany, France, Holland and Belgium, for their strong stance against Netanyahu’s annexation plan.”
According to Palestinian political analyst Mahmoud Awad, the Palestinians are now “reaping the fruits of their hard work” over the past few weeks, especially in the international community.
“We saw the first sign of the success of the Palestinian diplomatic efforts when dozens of foreign diplomats, including EU and UN officials, attended a Fatah-sponsored rally in Jericho against the annexation plan,” Awad noted.
“More than 40 foreign diplomats and officials heeded the invitation to attend the rally, where some of them also delivered powerful speeches in which they warned of the dangers of the annexation plan. That was an unprecedented event that sent a strong message to Netanyahu and the US administration.”
The Palestinian leadership’s achievements in the international arena, nonetheless, stand in sharp contrast to its unsuccessful attempts to organize mass rallies in the West Bank in protest of the annexation plan.
Repeated calls by Fatah and other Palestinian groups for waging “massive popular resistance activities” to thwart the planned annexation were met with apathy by most Palestinians.
Fatah officials were hoping that thousands of Palestinians would take to the streets of West Bank cities and villages on July 1 to protest against the annexation plan. Instead, they saw only two small protests in Ramallah and Bethlehem.
Even more embarrassing for Fatah was the fact that Hamas and its allies in Gaza managed to organize a major rally with thousands of demonstrators in Gaza City against the annexation plan.
Some Fatah activists attributed the low turnout to the dramatic rise in confirmed coronavirus cases in the West Bank, a move that prompted the Palestinian government on July 1 to announce a five-day full lockdown on all Palestinian cities.
“I believe that the fear of the coronavirus stopped many Palestinians from participating in the anti-annexation activities,” said As’ad al-Masri, a Fatah activist from Nablus. “You can’t ban public gatherings and weddings and then expect people to participate in a demonstration,” he explained. “The fact that many Palestinians did not participate in the protests does not mean that they don’t care about the annexation. Rather, it’s because they are afraid of the disease.”
A Palestinian journalist from Ramallah said that while she agrees that the fear of the spread of the coronavirus forced many to stay at home, there’s no denying the fact that the Palestinian public has long been suffering from fatigue and disillusionment with their leaders.
“It’s embarrassing to see thousands of people around the world and in Gaza demonstrate against the annexation plan while Palestinians in the West Bank are sitting in their homes,” the journalist pointed out. “The economic situation is very bad because of the coronavirus restrictions and lockdowns. The Palestinian public is exhausted and many people are worried about their salaries and businesses. They don’t have time to think about annexation or [US President Donald] Trump’s plan for peace in the Middle East.”
FOR NOW, it seems that annexation has done one good thing for the Palestinians: It has forced Fatah and Hamas to lay aside their differences and join forces in the fight against the plan.
For the first time since the beginning of the Fatah-Hamas rift 13 years ago, senior officials from the two parties appeared together at Wednesday’s rally in Gaza City.
On Thursday, officials Saleh Arouri of Hamas and Jibril Rajoub of Fatah were scheduled to hold a joint press conference, via teleconference, to “affirm Palestinian unity in confronting the Zionist annexation decisions and the ‘Deal of the Century’ and discuss ways of pursuing the joint national efforts.”
As long as the threat of annexation continues to loom large on the horizon, Fatah and Hamas are expected to pursue their efforts to end their dispute and achieve “national unity.”
Meanwhile, each party is now scrambling to score points with the Palestinian street by taking credit for “thwarting” the annexation plan. Fatah is telling the Palestinians that Abbas’s diplomatic efforts in the international arena stopped Netanyahu from announcing his plan. Hamas, for its part, was quick to announce that its threats to resume the “armed resistance” against Israel had “scared” the Israeli government.
It now appears that the annexation plan has succeeded, albeit temporarily, where all others failed, in achieving Palestinian unity. Since 2006, attempts by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, Turkey and other Arab and Islamic parties to end the Fatah-Hamas dispute have been completely inefficacious.
Ironically, Netanyahu now seems to hold the key to Palestinian “national unity.” If he proceeds with his plan, Fatah and Hamas will move closer to ending their dispute. If he chooses to shelve the plan, the conflict between the West Bank and Gaza Strip will continue and may even intensify.