Reacting to Donald Trump’s “deal of the century”, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said that “Jerusalem is not for sale”. On Saturday, the Arab League completely rejected Trump’s plan during an emergency meeting in Cairo, saying it would not lead to a just peace. During the meeting, Abbas reiterated vehemently that his authority will cut security ties with both Israel and the US: “There will be no relations whatsoever with neither the United States, nor with Israel, including security ties.” All Palestinian resistance factions have opposed Trump’s initiative.
Hence, the Palestinians are apparently united against one major threat for the first time in their modern political history. The Palestinian peace maker and Israeli partner in all bilateral peace agreements, the Fatah movement, and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) — both headed by Abbas — have also challenged the Trump administration. Abbas was reported to have refused to answer a phone call from the US President.
Some argue that it’s because of such intransigence that the dilemma is unresolved and the Palestinians will continue to lose. In a New York Times article, the writer blames the Arabs and the Palestinians because they have never stopped saying “no” to opportunities since 1947. The critics of the Palestinian standpoint can’t understand the reluctance of the leadership to even look at the draft of the deal.
Prior to the Bahrain Conference linked to the deal and organised by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner in June last year, the Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh told the New York Times that his government wasn’t even invited to attend. Shtayyeh also threatened to “send all security people home” but hasn’t done so.
In that same month, the US administration denied visas to Palestinian diplomats and activists including Dr Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO Executive Committee and a well-established peace negotiator since the Oslo agreement. “I am a Palestinian negotiator,” she wrote in the Washington Post. “I was denied a visa — and I think I know why.” She argued that the current administration’s attitude towards the Palestinian leadership is unlike anything she has seen before. Trump, she believes, doesn’t have the tolerance or capacity to engage in fact-based dialogue. When, in September 2018, the administration announced the closure of the PLO’s representative office in Washington, Palestinian leaders decried the decision as a “declaration of war” on efforts to bring peace.
The reluctance of the Palestinians emanates from the fact that the current US administration doesn’t show even the minimal respect to their leadership. With Trump’s predecessors in the White House, there was room for the leadership to manoeuvre and show dissent. The Americans were definitely biased towards the Israelis but they at least gave the Palestinian leadership the time of day. Even if it was all for show, they were able to save face among those who still believe that the Palestinian negotiators were real partners in the peace process, and not just puppets.
The Palestinian President’s position is blunt and unequivocal. He believes that armed resistance is ineffective, reckless and “terrorism”, but doesn’t support the entirely peaceful popular resistance efforts, such as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Abbas has reiterated relentlessly that he is willing to meet with the Israelis without any preconditions. In 2016, he revealed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried to stop him from participating in the funeral of Israeli President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem. He went anyway, and shook hands with Netanyahu.
More importantly, the striking similarities between Trump’s peace plan and the 1995 Beilin-Abu Mazen Agreement show that Abbas has, for a long time, endorsed most of the moves envisaged by the US President and his advisers, especially those related to Jerusalem, refugees and settlements. Interestingly, in that agreement, it was suggested that the present municipal boundaries of Jerusalem should be expanded and defineed as the “City of Jerusalem”. This would include Abu Dis, Eyzariya, Ar-Ram, Az-zaim, Ma’ale Adumim, Givat Ze’ev, Givon and other adjacent areas. Trump’s deal stipulates that the Palestinians will have sovereignty over parts of East Jerusalem. Also, the 1995 proposal was to maintain one municipality for the expanded “City of Jerusalem” in the form of a Joint Higher Municipal Council, formed by representatives of the boroughs.
While accepting that the Right of Return of Palestinian refugees is preserved by international law, in 1995 Abbas recognised that the new era of peace and coexistence rendered the implementation of this right impracticable. Trump’s plan envisions three options for Palestinian refugees seeking a permanent place of residence: absorption into the State of Palestine; local integration in current host countries; or the acceptance of 5,000 refugees each year, for up to ten years, in member countries of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation who agree to participate in the resettlement scheme. Moreover, in both the Beilin-Abu Mazen Agreement and Trump’s deal, the State of Palestine shall be demilitarised.
Thus, Abbas has already been on board with most of the issues mentioned by Trump. The PA President’s fiery rhetoric and threats to cut all communications and security collaboration with the Americans and the Israelis were for domestic consumption only. Israel generally treats such threats with scepticism, because its security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority is aimed principally at preventing Hamas from entrenching itself in the occupied West Bank and within the PLO. Abbas has even more to fear from Hamas than from Israel, as is demonstrated by his sanctions against the Gaza Strip. He is still obstructing general parliamentary and presidential elections, fearing a Hamas victory, as in 2006.
If the PA leadership is genuinely reluctant to endorse Trump’s deal, there are lots of real cards to be played away from rhetorical condemnation and clichés. The PA leadership should spare no effort in putting aside its diplomatic indecision and being serious about pursuing Israel at the International Criminal Court. With the current very obvious pro-Israel bias of the US, the PA’s hesitation about involving other international parties as honest brokers for peace is incomprehensible. Interestingly, in Trump’s deal there is a section that states plainly that the PLO and the Palestinian Authority shall refrain from any attempt to join any international organisation without the consent of the State of Israel. It also states that the promised Palestinian state shouldn’t take any action against the State of Israel, the United States or any of their citizens before the International Criminal Court, the International Court of Justice or any other tribunals.
Domestically, the Palestinian leadership should effectively give room to popular resistance against the expansion of settlements and annexation of land in the West Bank. If President Abbas really opposes the Trump deal, the immediate reform of the PLO’s structure should be initiated by inviting parties from across the political spectrum to participate in comprehensive and transparent elections. If, as expected, such measures don’t materialise, then Abbas’s apparent opposition to Trump will be seen for what it is: a hoax to fool the people of Palestine.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.