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How did moving the embassy become the lesser of two evils?

January 31, 2017 at 6:39 pm

Donald Trump with Benjamin Netanyahu [image from Donald Trump’s Facebook page]

There have been developments regarding moving the embassy, as there has been a trade-off between the Israeli government and American administration involving postponing the move of the embassy in exchange for the White House giving Israel the green light to execute its largest colonial settlement attack. This began with the construction of over 3,000 settlement units as part of a plan that includes 11,000 settlement units. In light of such a development, despite the danger it poses, moving the embassy has become less costly and harmful than not moving it.

What prompts me to say this is how the Palestinian leadership has dealt with this issue, as it made a long list including 26 steps it would take if the embassy were moved. However, they did not explain the steps they would take in response to this recent settlement craze, accompanied by legally legitimising settlements, as well as Israel’s implementation of plans to annex parts of the West Bank.

Those observing current Palestinian politics notice that it is suffering from improvisation and confusion and is governed by showing reactions without having a forward-looking vision capable of confronting the present and confidently progressing towards the future. This is apparent from its adoption of a policy based on two elements: survival and waiting. The survival of the PA and leadership and the renewal of its legitimacy are paramount, while waiting is the prevalent position at the moment and there has been no considerable action.

This explains why it continued to adopt the policy of relying on the path set out by the Oslo Accords and adhering to it, despite its threats to deviate from it for many years. It also explains why it continues the policy of managing the division and not working hard to end it, as well as postponing convening of the PNC, keeping the PLO on ice, and dealing with things as they come without launching an initiative capable of true change.

What mostly highlights the Palestinian policy’s short-sightedness when dealing with the possibility of moving the embassy is the fact that the leadership’s position initially underestimated the matter and considered the idea of moving the embassy as nothing more than electoral promises that wouldn’t actually be implemented. President Mahmoud Abbas expressed this in his meeting with Israel’s Meretz party.

Then there was a sudden 180 degree change resulting from uncertain information leaked by a businessman close to Donald Trump. This information was the elected American president would announce in his inauguration speech that he has decided to move the embassy. We then saw verbal warnings from the Palestinians, who would consider this step a declaration of war and as crossing a red line. They also said that this would lead to the withdrawal of the Palestinian recognition of Israel, the filing of a complaint against the US in the UN, implementing the Central Committee resolutions, adopting comprehensive popular resistance, boycotting Israel as a whole, and not only the settlements, working on freezing Israel’s membership to the UN, ending the division, restoring unity, changing the PA’s tasks, embodying the international recognition of Palestine, etc.

The PA’s lack of seriousness is reflected in the fact that one of the points on the leadership’s agenda is “Making 2017 the year in which the Israeli occupation ends and establishing a regional and international plan for this.” However, the Palestinian cause this year is facing the danger of erasure and liquidation. This means the goals that can actually be achieved at the moment are to keep the cause alive, enhance people’s resilience, resistance, thwarting hostile plans, and doing what is needed to end the division and restore national unity.

After the inauguration passed without the announcement that the embassy would be moved, the situation changed suddenly. The White House announced that the issue of moving the embassy is still in the early stages of discussion, and Trump made a statement that moving the embassy would be premature (while sources leaked that the postponement was issued after receiving permission and approval from Israel in exchange for the aforementioned trade off). Palestinian politician, Ahmed Majdalani, who is close to President Abbas, said that the Trump administration backed down from moving the embassy and reassured the Palestinians in this regard, while Saeb Erekat denied receiving any assurances.

The faltering Palestinian politics are apparent from the fluctuation between ruling out the possibility of moving the embassy and exaggerating the possibility of it occurring, and then back to ruling it out. There has even been a list of steps that the Palestinian side would take if the embassy is moved, but most of them are not related to the side actually moving the embassy, i.e. the American administration. Instead, the steps are directed against Israel. Decisions and resolutions were already passed in this regard by the Central Committee, but they were not implemented and no one knows when they will be, especially since implementing them requires the provision of factors, requirements and conditions conducive to doing so.

The steps announced by Erekat on behalf of the president did not include any steps directed at the American administration, such as shutting down the PLO’s office in Washington, refusing it as a mediator in the peace process or as a member of the Quartet, or filing a complaint in the Security Council on the basis of Article 27 of the UN Charter which halts a Security Council member’s ability to use their veto as long as there is a complaint is related to the member violating its commitments.

What is important at the moment is that the postponement of moving the embassy, which may be temporary for a year or six months according to multiple sources, has made the delusions of resuming the so-called peace process replace the state of shock and surprise.

The Palestinian leadership is downplaying the danger of what may occur in light of the trade-off between Trump’s administration and the Israeli government, and is resorting to silence and waiting until the resumption of negotiations, which is what it hopes for. This harmful policy ignores the fact that the most Trump can do is seek to reach a peace agreement that secures the Israeli interests and requirements, as evidenced by his insistence that the negotiations occur without outside interference.

This potential development would put the Palestinian side in a very awkward situation, as it is facing the resumption of negotiations with a lower ceiling of expectations than the previous negotiations, and therefore it is facing two possibilities. The Palestinian side may either surrender by agreeing to what Israel is offering, or reject what Israel is offering, which means that the negotiations have failed and the Palestinians would be held responsible for this, this would allow for the moving of the embassy and the imposition of the Israeli solution by force, with American support.

There is a third possibility that the Palestinian leadership must not rule out. The Trump administration may favour the Israeli approach proposed by Israel in recent years, in which it promotes a regional solution with the Arabs and gives them the priority of resolving the conflict with the Palestinians. Therefore, the Palestinians would be forced to accept the solution or face complete isolation.

This last possibility seems more likely in light of Netanyahu’s recent announcement regarding his impossible conditions to negotiate with the Palestinians, including their acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state, Israel’s continued control over the territories extending from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea in exchange for a Palestinian “state” without sovereignty over the land classified as Areas A and B, i.e. about 40 per cent of the occupied West Bank.

It is shameful that the Palestinian leadership is threatening national unity, resistance, and boycott if the embassy is moved, as they are essential requirements that are imperative, regardless of whether the embassy is moved or not. The embassy issue is being used as a cover for not taking the required and immediate steps to address the dangerous threats, including the danger of the settlements that are expanding strongly.

A concrete plan is required that outlines the Palestinian policy in the event that the embassy is moved and in the event that it isn’t, if the Maale Adumim settlement is annexed or if it isn’t, and in light of the continued settlement expansion and Israel’s denial of all agreements and commitments. This must be met with a Palestinian willingness to violate the Oslo Accords and its commitments, and not by demanding that Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and all other factions agree to the national unity government and adhere to these commitments despite the fact that everyone admits Israel does not adhere to them. This has led to killing the so-called two-state solution by means of negotiations and good intentions. It is a possibility that this solution may be unapologetically buried during Trump’s rule. As for the option of realising national rights by means of fighting and changing the balances of power all at once or in stages, it will always be an option and will never be disregarded.

Translated from Masarat, 31 January 2017

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.