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Abu Mazen’s face-off with Trump

December 14, 2017 at 2:18 pm

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas (R) and US President Donald Trump (L) hold a joint press conference following their meeting on 23 May, 2017 in Bethlehem, West Bank [Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency]

Mahmoud Abbas is neither confused nor torn about choosing to continue down his old path, known as the peace process, despite all of the obstacles in the way, including Trump’s ill-fated declaration that Jerusalem is the capital of the Zionist state. The official Palestinian leadership announced that it is preparing plans to confront this with the same peaceful means, without deviating from them. This is despite the fact that Trump himself has deviated from the path. Abu Mazen’s plan is to isolate and boycott the US administration.

Expert observers of Abbas — Abu Mazen — who, despite all reservations, is the sole decision-maker regarding the domestic and foreign policies of the PLO, Fatah and the PA, insist that he is acting on a basic idea, the details of which he is unlikely to announce publicly. This idea is that the domestic, regional and international conditions do not allow for the Palestinian people to achieve their legitimate national goals. Hence, the minimum, necessary and possible thing to be done is to persevere and retain what is left of Palestine. As such, the peace process continues, even if it does not seek or achieve the Palestinian people’s true interests. In Abu Mazen’s opinion, despite its disadvantages, the peace process is much better than resistance, in any form; this was made clear in the national reconciliation document.

There are many who believe that the public Palestinian position calling for a boycott of the US administration will only last for a specific period, perhaps throughout what remains of Trump’s presidency. Abu Mazen has no other options, which will probably lead to an impasse in efforts to revive the peace process. It is unlikely that Washington will back down from Trump’s declaration in the near future, despite what Yedioth Ahronoth mentioned last week about the White House discussing the possibility of compensating the Palestinians by stressing support for the two-state solution or by declaring East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Read: 70% of Palestinians want Abbas to resign immediately

The PA, under Abu Mazen’s leadership, may use other means of struggle, in addition to boycotting the biased US mediator, but within the limits of the peace process. This may include reinforcing and supporting the BDS movement, which has proven capable of making Israel pay political and economically; renewing efforts to have Palestine accepted as a full member of the UN; filing complaints with the International Criminal Court regarding Israel’s war crimes and crimes against humanity; and encouraging peaceful, popular protests on the Palestinian streets.

If the PA and Fatah manage to invest and take advantage of such tools, in a serious and genuine manner, in addition to reinforcing national reconciliation and uniting on a domestic front against Trump’s declaration — which is something many observers doubt — then they will be able to place pressure on the US administration and the Israeli government. This could push Washington to back down over Jerusalem, just as George W Bush backed down in 2007 from his promises made to the late Ariel Sharon to support the revocation of the Palestinians’ right of return.

The PA’s hints about cutting or ending security coordination with the Israeli occupation forces, which most Palestinians reject, should be a means to confront Trump’s announcement and Israel’s brutality. However, due to the weakness of the PA, it has turned into an “insurance policy” that ensures the survival of the authority and allows it to continue to carry out its functions. In other words, it is a means to ensure that the PA can carry out all of the “tools” mentioned above, and so it must continue security coordination and cooperation with the Israelis, in accordance with the rules of the peace process game.

Read: Washington puts more pressure on Abbas

Several indicators show that the PA’s position on the popular protests against Trump’s move is not the same as it was during the protests against Israel’s installation of electronic gates at the gates of Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. This was pointed out by the military analyst for Yedioth Ahronoth, Yossi Yehoshua, who stressed that maintaining the same level of security coordination with the PA, as well as the army’s restraint and experience in containing protests, in cooperation with the PA, can lead to keeping these protests under control.

I must say that the success of Trump’s disastrous announcement depends on the price that the Americans and Israelis will pay as a result. In other words, it depends on the extent of damage and losses to US and Israeli interests in the region, particularly the continuation of the peace process based on Trump’s rules. This is a matter over which the PA can have some influence, along with the price that will be paid as a result of the ongoing popular protests and resistance, in all its forms, against US and Israeli objectives, which seems to be a matter against which the PA is fighting. As for the Arab, American and Israeli alliances, the PA does not have much influence over them.

Hence, despite the great restrictions imposed by the rules of the peace process on Abu Mazen’s options, as well as the national price paid by the PA and its President as a result of those rules, if the authority has sincere intentions and works seriously, it can rally and mobilise to convince the Americans and Israelis that the price for Jerusalem’s recognition will be very high. They need to be shown that it is necessary for them to back down from this damaging and harmful move by Donald Trump.

This was first published in Arabic on Arabi21, 13 December 2017

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