Abbas’s end game

What is clear is that Abbas has managed to burn his bridges. What is less clear is Abbas’s end game.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks at a meeting in Ramallah on March 19, 2018 (photo credit: PPO)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks at a meeting in Ramallah on March 19, 2018
(photo credit: PPO)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s derogatory statements on Monday against US Ambassador David Friedman received extensive media coverage. It is not every day that the leader of the PA calls a high-ranking American official “a son of a dog.”
But what was noteworthy about Abbas’s speech to a meeting of the Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership of the PA was not that he lashed out at the Trump administration. He has done that before. In December, for instance, after President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and threatened to cut off funding to UNRWA and to the PA unless the Palestinian leadership cooperated with US efforts to negotiate a peace deal, Abbas declared, “May your [Trump’s] house be destroyed!” Rather, what was interesting about Abbas’s speech was that no one was spared Abbas’s rancor. Abbas lashed out at everyone – the US, Hamas, even Egypt was criticized.
Abbas blamed Hamas for the roadside bombing that targeted the PA’s Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and General Intelligence Service head Majid Faraj as they traveled in the northern Gaza Strip last week. He rejected continued cooperation with Hamas and vowed to institute sanctions against the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip that would probably include halting PA payments for electricity and water to Gaza and freezing the payment of salaries to hundreds of staffers in the Strip.
Abbas more than hinted that the Egyptians had failed in their mission to end the dispute between the rival Palestinian parties. “We thank Egypt for its effort,” he said.
“But for me, what counts is the outcome. And what is the outcome? Zero.”
The speech was a reflection of Abbas’s near total isolation.
Rarely if ever have relations between the Palestinians and the US been so bad. The Trump administration has made it clear that it will not continue to fund the PA if it continues to use the money to pay terrorists and the families of terrorists. And it will also make continued financial support conditional upon Palestinian cooperation with US attempts to bring together Israel and the Palestinians for peace talks.
Tension between Hamas and the Fatah have reached new highs after the assassination attempt and after Hamas refused to relinquish military control over Gaza Strip as part of the reconciliation deal brokered by Egypt.
And now it seems that relations between the PA and Cairo are also deteriorating. This might also have something to do with Egypt’s – and Saudi Arabia’s – refusal to confront Trump over his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Egypt and Saudi Arabia also are reportedly pressuring Abbas to cooperate with Trump’s forthcoming peace proposal. Their main focus is Iran and they need US and Israeli support in confronting the expansionist Iranian regime. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an obstacle to cooperation with Israel. And the Saudis and Egypt want it solved so that they can focus on the real threat to Middle East stability – the Islamic Republic.
What is clear is that Abbas has managed to burn his bridges. What is less clear is Abbas’s end game. What does he want to achieve by lashing out against all the parties that could help him to advance the interests of the Palestinian people he represents? Admittedly, Abbas’s personal situation – he will turn 83 on Monday and is in failing health – limits his options.
At the same time, he has little to lose. He can take risks that a younger leader would be wary of taking. It all depends on the legacy Abbas wants to leave behind.
Will Abbas take advantage of a dynamic, innovative US administration working in tandem with influential Arab states such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt to advance a viable peace plan? Or will he take the more traveled Palestinian route of intransigence and struggle? In coming weeks Abbas will have plenty of opportunities to demonstrate show the direction he plans on leading the PA. March 30 is Land Day. Hamas is planning a six-week-long tent city protest near the border that separates Gaza Strip from Israel. Nakba Day will follow shortly after on May 15, one day after the US plans to move its embassy to Jerusalem.
Will Abbas take the path of pragmatism and restraint, or will he use upcoming events as a pretext to lead his people once again on the path of violence?