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Has Washington decided to look for an alternative to Abbas?

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas delivers a speech [File photo]

The United States has been contacting Palestinian figures from the West Bank and Jerusalem after the Palestinian leadership made a decision to stop contacts related to the peace process with Washington; a step that came in response to Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to transfer the US embassy from Tel Aviv to it. The Palestinian leadership made it clear that the era of the US monopoly of mediating the peace process is over, adding that it would begin to search for an alternative international mechanism under the auspices of the United Nations.

We do not know much about these contacts, the identity of the parties or people involved in them, but the “red lights” appear to have been lit at the presidential headquarters in Ramallah but have not reached a stage of panic yet. Palestinians have already faced dozens of these attempts throughout the history of their contemporary national movement. The history of this movement and the PLO can be described as a history of struggle against alternative leaderships’ plans or as a fight to represent the Palestinian people.

In the time of George W. Bush, Washington’s attempts concerning Palestinian figures were intensified in order to replace the PLO. This was manifested in the joint Palestinian-Jordanian delegation to the Madrid Conference where Haider Abdel Shafi, Hanan Ashrawi and Saeb Erekat were some of the prominent names of the era three decades ago. They all were connected to Fatah, the PLO and the national movement. They coordinated their every move with the late Yasser Arafat. They received instructions from him all the way until Oslo was reached along with the mutual recognition, and we all know the rest of the story.

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During George W. Bush Jr’s era, and in the context of “Operation Defensive Shield”, in which then prime minister of Israel Ariel Sharon reoccupied the West Bank, the man spared no effort to undermine the leadership of Palestinian President Arafat. The American-Israeli attempt took the form of “reforming the Palestinian regime” and the creation of the post of prime minister, which was filled for the first time by current Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. At that time, he was supported by many Palestinian figures, most notably Yasser Abed Rabbo, Salam Fayyad and Mohammed Dahlan.

When Bush and Sharon were sure that the leadership of Abu Ammar was neither limited nor diminished by a position or a coalition of personalities in line with the American will, and when it became clear to them that Arafat was not about to abandon the fundamental principles of the Palestinian cause and that he did not close the door in the face of the Palestinians right to resist the occupation, after Oslo and Camp David had reached a dead-end in the era of US President Bill Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, Israel launched its war to reoccupy the West Bank and place Arafat under siege at his headquarters, in preparation for his assassination with poison as the Palestinian narrative confirms.

Sharon, in order to maintain relations with his strategic ally, asked the Bush administration for permission to liquidate Yasser Arafat accusing him of being a supporter of terrorism and inciting hatred and violence and because he became “irrelevant” and an obstacle to resuming negotiations and completing the peace process. Bush was surprised by the request of his Israeli guest (the bulldozer), and asked him to leave the matter to the divine power! Sharon’s reply was that divine power sometimes needs assistance. Bush was silent and Sharon considered that silence to be a green light to assassinate Arafat, and that’s what happened.

Today, with the Trump administration and Netanyahu’s government, Palestinians are reliving the same atmosphere, and their leadership is going through the same context, although this same leadership, at that time, thought that curtailing the freedom of the charismatic leadership of Yasser Arafat could trigger a settlement and the final status solution. The leadership got disappointed and it seems that now it is a candidate for undergoing the same thing that was done to Yasser Arafat 14 years ago, after becoming target for the same accusations that were made against Arafat and to a systematic demonisation by many parties.

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American contacts with independent Palestinian figures send a message to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that he can either go along with Trump’s plans with disregard to all the Palestinian people’s legitimate principles and rights, starting with Jerusalem and the refugees, including sovereignty and independence and giving up on large parts of the West Bank, or that he will face the same fate of Abu Ammar; if not through assassination, although the possibility is still on the Israeli table, it’d be through the creation of an alternative leadership from the inside, supported by the US and Israel.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon

In fact, the alternative leadership scheme has been a priority for some capitals in the past few years, but President Abbas has stood up to pressure and succeeded in repressing these attempts one by one. Perhaps the seventh conference of Fatah has provided a tactical victory against those who adopt such suspicious attempts.

However, these people never give up, and American contacts with Palestinians outside the formal frameworks of Fatah and the PLO, may be seen as a continuation to the attempts to market some of the former security leaders, known for their unfair Palestinian record, as an alternative leadership. There are big names who got involved in side relations with some capitals engaged in this file. Efforts seem to be coordinated to unify attempts between a coward administration in Washington, an extremist government in Tel Aviv, and leaders that only care to demonstrate to the United States that they are the best to implement its plans in the region by proxy, even if that is at the expense of Palestine, Jerusalem, the PLO, the refugees and even at the expense of Arab dignity and rights in general.

The collective Palestinian experience has shown that such desperate attempts and harmful interventions towards the Palestinian cause will not see the light if a solid Palestinian will, that is adherent to rights and principles, is present. Palestinian people may be some of the most people on earth who hate external interventions and are in contempt of them. It is possible to build on this accumulated legacy, to drop the extortion card of alternative leadership, no matter who is waving it. This time, as in previous times, it is not about who the leader is, but about the future of the national cause of the people of Palestinian. And if the Palestinian leadership has the will and is determined and resolute, it will have an army of allies and sympathisers at home and abroad, and from Arab, regional and international centres and hubs that have the greatest interest in overthrowing this endeavour.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Arabi21 on 6 February 2018

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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