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What did Abbas bring back from Washington?

US President Donald Trump meets with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the White House on May 3, 2017 in Washington, DC. [Thaer Ganaim/Apaimages]
US President Donald Trump meets with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the White House on May 3, 2017 in Washington, DC. [Thaer Ganaim/Apaimages]

What, Palestinians are wondering, did Mahmoud Abbas bring back with him from Washington? While some concurred that “there is nothing new under the sun” the questions turned into fears of what may happen to them and the occupied Palestinian territories.

This is more so since the visit took place within an unfavourable atmosphere for the Palestinians, especially for Fatah and the Palestinian Authority. It is enough to refer back to the statement made by US Vice President Mike Pence — deliberately, on the eve of the meeting between Donald Trump and Abbas — in which he reiterated the president’s commitment to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This may happen “soon,” he hinted.

Image of US Vice President Mike Pence on February 18, 2017 [Andreas Gebert/Anadolu Agency]

Image of US Vice President Mike Pence on February 18, 2017 [Andreas Gebert/Anadolu Agency]

Hence, we can consider the US preparation for Abbas’s visit to be extremely audacious by Palestinian standards, as Washington chose the most sensitive issues among Palestinians, and Muslims in general, in order to send a message to both the PA president and Israel’s prime minister. Abbas was basically advised not to rely too much on the visit and to lower his expectations, both on a personal level in his capacity as PA president, and those of Palestinian aspirations in general. To Benjamin Netanyahu he sent a message of reassurance that the relationship between the allies is stable and strong, and that the Trump administration is keen to please Tel Aviv.

Read: Abbas, Trump and the illusions of peace

In contrast to this blatant negativity, what the US said was characterised by things that the Palestinians can look forward to, but in a general manner. Abbas did not receive a clear or specific position on the “solution” in terms of the two-state option or the thorny core issues, such as the refugees and Israel’s illegal settlements. This ambiguity calls into question the reason for Abbas’s visit to Washington at this particular time, when he lacks popularity within Palestine and is facing foreign pressure, with Israel and some Arab states regarding him as part of the past. It was also clear that Abbas had no strong cards in his favour; Trump is preparing to visit Israel and did not extend his hand to Abbas, despite being days away from meeting Netanyahu in Tel Aviv.

Hence, it was normal for Abbas not to receive any signs calling for optimism, and that Trump’s statements would be ambiguous and not binding; he was always going to give vague assurances that he is keen to work with both parties to reach a political solution. Looking into the details, Trump’s remarks, and those of his officials, revealed that Washington would be content with playing the role of the “facilitator” bringing together the two parties, without imposing anything on them, or setting clear rules governing negotiations.

Read: Gaza between Abbas’s escalation and Trump’s conditions

This means that Washington will no longer be the interlocutor and that, in reality, the balance of power between the two sides will be the de facto “sponsor” of the negotiations. Since that balance is tipped heavily in favour of Israel, any outcome of negotiations will inevitably be unfair, if it is ever even accepted by the Palestinians.

The lessons of the recent past must, therefore, be recalled. Nothing new has come out of the so-called peace process between the Palestinians and Israel, despite the fact that a quarter of a century has passed since the signing of the Oslo Accords, which are also subject to criticism. The peace process has not progressed at all from when it started under President Bill Clinton, through Bush’s terms and then Obama’s; it was the latter, remember, who promised to achieve the two-state solution. Before the eyes and ears of these American presidents, Israel has embarked on a comprehensive operation to liquidate the Palestinian cause by changing the demographic status quo, strangling the occupied territories in terms of security and economy, and fabricating excuses to attack Gaza over and over again. It then complains — with the ultimate in audacity — that it has no Palestinian “partner for peace”.

Needless to say, Trump will no less supportive or biased towards Israel than his predecessors were. After leaving the White House empty-handed apart from pie-in-the-sky promises, Abbas can only sit back and watch the largesse that Trump will take with him to Tel Aviv.

Translated from Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, 8 May 2017.

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

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