The Palestinians, who like to think of themselves as being at the center of the world’s attention, are once again disappointed. The Russia-Ukraine war, the rapprochement between Israel and some Arab countries, and a US administration that has taken a low-profile approach toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have added a sense of frustration to the Palestinians’ discontent.
Until the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Palestinians had been rather pleased with the attention they were receiving from the international community, especially over the past year.
The dispute surrounding the eviction of the Arab families in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, the Israel-Hamas war and violent clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces in several parts of the West Bank attracted worldwide attention, much to the satisfaction of the Palestinians.
Then came the controversial Amnesty International report that condemned Israel as an “apartheid” state. The report was warmly welcomed by the leaders of the Palestinians, both in the West Bank and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. For them, the controversy surrounding the report meant that the Palestinians are moving in the right direction in keeping up their momentum.
Although the war in Ukraine has distracted attention from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Palestinian officials said this week that they are confident that this is a temporary phenomenon.
“This is not the first international crisis or event that has shifted the world’s attention away from the conflict with Israel,” said a Palestinian Authority official in Ramallah. “Of course, we are unhappy about the war, but we know that soon people will get tired of it and direct their attention back to the Middle East.”
According to the official, the Palestinians are worried about the possibility that Israel will take advantage of the war to “step up its measures” against the Palestinians, particularly in east Jerusalem and the West Bank.
“We have no doubt that Israel will exploit the world’s preoccupation with the Russia-Ukraine crisis to expand settlements and create new facts on the ground,” the official added.
INDEPENDENT OF what they perceive as a temporary diversion of international attention, the Palestinians seem to have a particular bone to pick – namely, the US administration’s “indecisive” policies toward the conflict with Israel and its failure to fulfill promises made by President Joe Biden to the Palestinian leadership before and after the US presidential election.
Those Palestinians officials who had pinned high hopes on the Biden administration are now talking about a sense of betrayal and vexation.
Until recently, these officials refrained from publicly criticizing the US administration, with the hope of averting a crisis with Washington.
Moreover, a number of officials were still hoping that the Biden administration would at least fulfill some of the promises, including reopening the US Consulate in Jerusalem and the PLO Mission in Washington, both of which were closed by the administration of former president Donald Trump.
Additionally, the Palestinians say that they have been left with the impression that the Biden administration’s statements about a two-state solution and the need for Israel to refrain from unilateral moves are mere rhetoric.
“The Biden administration is either playing us for fools or is too weak to make firm decisions,” complained another Palestinian official in Ramallah. “Not only have they failed to fulfill their promises, they are not even putting pressure on Israel. Biden and his people keep telling us that they are committed to the two-state solution, but they are not doing anything to stop Israeli actions and policies that are destroying any prospects for peace.”
In an apparent attempt to compensate the Palestinians and ease their anger, the Biden administration is focusing its efforts on boosting the Palestinian economy and improving the living conditions of the Palestinians. There is no talk about reviving the stalled peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians.
The Palestinians, for their part, are saying that they are continuing to search for a “political horizon” that would lead to a political settlement with Israel on the basis of the two-state solution and international resolutions pertaining to the Israeli-Arab conflict.
They are also saying that while they are happy with the resumption of US financial aid to the Palestinians and efforts to strengthen the economy, the Americans need to understand that the conflict with Israel is not about money or improving the standard of living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Earlier this month, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Israeli and Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr visited Ramallah, where he held talks with the PA’s No. 2, Hussein al-Sheikh and other senior officials, including Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh. During the visit, the US envoy reportedly initiated a meeting between Israeli and Palestinian businessmen.
After the visit, Palestinian officials strongly criticized the Biden administration and accused it of failing to make good on its promises to the Palestinians. This time the criticism came directly from the office of the PA president, a move aimed at sending a message to the Americans to the effect that even Mahmoud Abbas has lost confidence in the Biden administration.
The 86-year-old Abbas is now waiting for the war in Ukraine to end, so that he can resume his efforts to convene an international conference for peace in the Middle East under the auspices of the four members of the Quartet: the US, Russia, United Nations and European Union.
Abbas’s goal is to minimize any US role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the premise that the Americans are biased in favor of Israel and therefore can’t act as honest brokers.
He wants the US to be present at the negotiating table between the Palestinians and Israel, but not in its capacity as the sole sponsor of the talks. Abbas wants Russia, China, the Europeans and the United Nations to end the Americans’ “exclusive control” of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
The Palestinian strategy is to internationalize the conflict, with the hope that that will isolate Israel and the US in the international arena and increase the pressure on them. That’s why Abbas has been trying, over the past three years, to advance his initiative of holding an international conference for peace in the Middle East under the auspices of the Quartet. The initiative has gained the support of Russia, China and some European countries.
At the same time, the Palestinians are continuing with their diplomatic campaign in the international arena to bring “war crime” charges against Israel. In the past few weeks, Palestinian officials have again been talking about the need to go to the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice, holding Israel responsible for “settler violence,” “extrajudicial executions,” “house demolitions,” “ethnic cleansing” and “settlement construction.”
WHILE PALESTINIAN officials in Ramallah are telling their Israeli and American counterparts in private meetings that they are working to calm the situation and prevent an escalation with Israel during the holy month of Ramadan, which begins early next month, in fact they are stepping up the campaign of incitement against Israel.
PA and Hamas leaders are separately calling on the Palestinians to step up the “resistance” against Israel. The PA is talking about a “peaceful popular resistance,” while Hamas and its allies in the Gaza Strip want to see more stabbing, shooting and car-ramming attacks in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The PA and Hamas are accusing Israel of plotting to commit “new crimes” against al-Aqsa Mosque by allowing Jews to continue touring the Temple Mount. The Palestinian leaders and spokesmen are also trying to drag the Arab citizens of Israel into the conflict with Israel by depicting them as victims of Israeli “repressive” measures.
The PA and Hamas refer to the Israeli-Arabs as the “Palestinians of 1948,” the “Palestinians of the inside” and the “Arab citizens living in occupied Palestine.”
The PA-controlled media report extensively on events related to the Israeli-Arabs. In the Gaza Strip, Hamas and several Palestinian factions earlier this month formed a “commission for supporting the Palestinians of 1948.” The purpose of both the PA and Hamas is to show that there is no difference between an Arab living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and an Arab living in Nazareth, Haifa, Ramle and the Negev.
MEANWHILE, THE Palestinians are clearly worried about the fact that several major Arab countries have turned their backs on them.
This week’s tripartite meeting in Sharm e-Sheikh, which brought together Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed is yet another indication that the Palestinian issue is far from the focal point of Arab concern.
In the past few years, relations between the Palestinians and many of the Arab countries have deteriorated, especially after the signing of the Abraham Accords between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain. The Gulf states are angry with the Palestinians who accused them of “betraying Jerusalem and Palestine” by making peace with Israel.
THE PALESTINIANS, in short, feel betrayed by the Americans and their Arab brothers. The Americans have not fulfilled their promises to the Palestinians, while the Gulf states are accusing the Palestinians of being “ungrateful.”
In Ramallah, there is also a feeling that even the Europeans are becoming less sympathetic toward the Palestinians, particularly in the wake of demands that the PA halt the incitement against Israel as a precondition for receiving financial aid from the EU.
Under the current circumstances, the only way for the Palestinians to return to the spotlight is by engaging in another confrontation with Israel.
That’s why all eyes are set on the coming weeks, when Palestinians join the Muslim world in celebrating Ramadan by converging, en masse, on al-Aqsa Mosque. As in previous years, the Palestinians (including the Israeli-Arabs) are being told that their presence at the site will serve to “thwart” attempts by the Jews to “desecrate” and “destroy” the mosque.