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Is Abbas waiting for a ladder to climb down from the tree?

June 29, 2018 at 4:25 pm

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas holds an urgent cabinet meeting in Ramallah, West Bank on 14 May, 2018 [Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency]

After returning from its latest tour of the region the American team, with its peace process and deal of the century, is showing exceptional interest in the need to “lure” the Palestinians back to the negotiating table and break the decision made by the Palestinian leadership to stop all contact with the American administration. The American team, led by the President’s advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner, seems to have realised, albeit a year too late, that no Arab leader, regardless of how “moderate” they are, will speak on behalf of the Palestinians or negotiate on their behalf.

Of course the American administration would not have gone down this road if several Arabs had reassured them of their ability to soften the Palestinian position and contain the anger and “sulking” of the Palestinian leadership, and of the fact that they have enough influence and money to remove any obstacles in the way. However, this was not the case and this didn’t happen. The initiative promoted by Kushner and his colleagues is indigestible and hard to swallow. It is difficult to spin and promote. Even the Arab leaders realised, albeit a little too late, that getting too involved in promoting such an initiative and trying to impose it on the Palestinians would have harsh consequences on the standing of their countries and their heated regional wars. It may even affect their “legitimacy” and the people’s image of them.

In any case, Washington will not tire or give up. It will knock on every door in order to re-open the channels of communication with the Palestinians, after realising that they will not give their permission to anyone else to speak on their behalf. It is particularly in this regard that Washington is seeking to make use of official Arab positions, which are not declared, that seem uncomfortable or opposed to the Palestinian leadership’s position regarding its severed contact with Washington. Even the countries that rejected the deal of the century and Trump’s decision regarding Jerusalem and moving the embassy do not seem keen on the continued distance and divide between the Palestinians and Americans. There are also Western and international circles that share these countries’ position on the matter.

Kushner is basically talking about a business deal

On Moscow’s part, Putin made the first bypass of the PA’s decision to stop contact with the American side, by relying on the “World Cup diplomacy”, as there have been speculations regarding the possibility of arranging a meeting between Netanyahu and Abbas under the auspices of the Tsar. If such a meeting were to occur, the Palestinian President will have travelled more than halfway to Washington, and perhaps after the Helsinki Summit (Putin – Trump), in two weeks, preparations will be made to make the other half of the trip. This could especially be true if Moscow guarantees itself a seat next to the American mediator and sponsor as part of wider American-Russian understandings regarding international issues. It seems as there is an optimistic atmosphere surrounding the two, especially after the initial visit made by the administration’s “hawk”, John Bolton to Moscow and his important meeting with Vladimir Putin.

Although it is completely understandable in terms of reasons and justifications, the Palestinian decision to stop all forms of contact with Washington is a form of silent stalemate or impasse. None of the Arab countries want to appear to be pressuring the Palestinians to open the channels of communication and dialogue with Washington, especially after Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the US Embassy to it. However, no one publically expressed support for the Palestinian decision, let alone engaged with it.

I believe there is a silent debate going on within the Palestinian decision-making circles about the feasibility and seriousness of this decision, and about how long they will continue to implement it. There may also be questions about whether it is wise to cut off the global superpower that has the greatest influence on the course of the Palestinian crisis. It seems that someone in Ramallah needs a ladder to climb down from the top of the tree and it seems that many are willing to provide such a ladder. However, the question is: what will the PA get in return? Is the issue with the content of the deal of the century itself or does it want the Jerusalem decision to be withdrawn (which is highly unlikely)? Or is the price the Palestinian side is waiting for in Gaza and the surrounding arrangements, as from the PA’s perspective, payment must be made through it and it alone, so that when the wheat is separated from the chaff, it is not poured directly into the mill of Hamas and the division.

What is Israel counting on?

I also think that this issue may be raised in Washington at the Jordanian-American summit, based on a Jordanian precedent, during which Amman succeeded in bringing Abbas and Netanyahu back to the negotiating table in Amman under the auspices of John Kerry in late 2014. This was after a long period of estrangement and separation. Will the Trump administration ask Jordan to do such a thing and what will Jordan’s response be, especially since Amman will not have supported the decision to cut off communication and close the diplomatic channels between Ramallah and Washington? The answers to these questions will emerge in the upcoming days and weeks.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Addustour on 29 June 2018.

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