Saturday,21 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1344, (11 - 17 May 2017)
Saturday,21 October, 2017
Issue 1344, (11 - 17 May 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Abbas’ US visit in perspective

Seen by some as saving his political position, the visit of Mahmoud Abbas to the White House nonetheless may lay the ground for Trump to propose a deal the Palestinians could never accept

Abbas’  US visit  in perspective
Abbas’ US visit in perspective

The Palestinians were hopeful that the reception of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas by US President Donald Trump in the White House was a promising start for a breakthrough in resolving the Palestinian problem. Trump, however, was more realistic and clearly stated: “I am committed to working with Israel and the Palestinians to reach an agreement, but I cannot impose a deal on Israel. Palestinians and Israelis must work together to reach an agreement that allows the two people to live and worship in peace.”

Trump’s statements are similar to many issued by various US administrations since Middle East policy became a priority on their agendas. Analysts believe nothing will happen, and some even predict what Abbas describes as a good deal would work against the Palestinians, not for their benefit.

During the visit, there was no talk about Israel’s continued settlement activities on occupied Palestinian land, although it was a key point during talks between Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu two months ago. Also, omitted in talks was the right of return for Palestinian refugees within the 1967 borders, which are the borders that Hamas recently and for the first time recognised as the parameters of a Palestinian state, although Hamas said it is a preliminary step to liberating remaining land under occupation from the River to the Sea.

Israeli analysts tentatively believe Abbas’s visit is political suicide for him and his supporters, because it comes at a time when Abbas has hit rock bottom in popularity among Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Especially since the fate of the two-state solution remains unknown and it is unclear how Trump will act on this issue.

Analysts believe Trump will choose one of two options. Either invite the Palestinians and Israelis to return to direct negotiations within a regional framework that includes Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and perhaps other Arab countries; or he will be hands-off as his predecessor Barack Obama was at the end of his term. The first choice is disconcerting for Palestinians because it leads to forging relations between Israel and other Arab countries under the pretext of regional talks, without Israel paying the necessary price — namely the creation of an independent Palestinian state.

Abbas always says that giving the Palestinians a state will open the door to 50 Arab and Islamic states for Israel, and repeatedly asserts that implementing the Arab Peace Initiative must begin with the creation of a Palestinian state first, and consequently normalising relations between Israel and Arab countries, not vice versa.

The second option is also unsettling for Palestinians because the proposed deal cannot suggest creating a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, since Netanyahu and his partners in government strongly reject it, and want the borders to be much smaller, perhaps on 60 per cent of the West Bank.

Observers believe when it is time to present the political initiative, it is likely all ideas would be biased in favour of Israel because Trump’s political team is closer to Israel’s position, since some of them lived in settlements or donated to their construction. It is also likely that Trump, who met Netanyahu and will meet him again this month during Trump’s visit to the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia and the occupied Palestinian territories, will take a position that is similar to his ally or spoilt child, Israel. Netanyahu will convince Trump that settlement construction cannot stop for many reasons, including the collapse of his government coalition, the position of his party and others. Netanyahu has already started to add new negotiating points to the agenda of final settlement talks, such as incitement, salaries for prisoners and academic curricula, in order to bargain over settlements. Netanyahu is telling Trump: Abbas cannot halt the salaries to prisoners, the wounded and martyrs, and I cannot halt settlements.

Palestinians are concerned that accepting any of the US’s future proposals will be difficult and rejecting them will also be difficult. Accepting any plan would mean accepting less than a state and less than the 1967 borders. Perhaps it will be a state with temporary borders on 60 per cent of the West Bank, which they refused in the past. Rejecting US ideas could risk US punitive measures such as severing ties, halting aid, and threats of replacing the Palestinian leadership.

Thus, the better scenario for Palestinians is for the US to stay away, and maintaining the status quo, even though this means continued settlements.

Hamas does not believe Abbas’s visit to Washington was of any benefit to the Palestinian cause. It also warned against any measures to terminate the Palestinian cause or that come at the expense of the rights and demands of the Palestinian people. It urged Abbas not to count on the US administration, especially since Trump talked about a peace agreement between the two sides during a news conference after his meeting with Abbas, but did not mention the two-state solution or his vision of how to reach this deal.

In its charter, Hamas stated it objects to the Oslo Accords and security coordination with Israel, and it supports all forms of resistance of occupation, especially non-violent popular struggle though it is not an alternative to armed struggle. The document does not clearly state its separation from the Muslim Brotherhood, but asserts the independence of Palestinian decisions with no links to foreign fronts. The charter adds that Hamas does not identify with radical Islamist groups such as Islamic State (IS) and Al-Qaeda, and it presents a path that bridges between radical violence and “capitulation to Israel”.

Palestinian factions and forces are also concerned that the US administration will attempt to impose stiff conditions and restrictions on the Palestinians before it delivers “the deal of the century” for the Palestinian cause.

Meanwhile, a hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners began on 17 April demanding legitimate legal rights, and there is concern the US will agree with Netanyahu and demand the Palestinian Authority stop supporting the families of prisoners and martyrs.

All of the above indicates that Palestinians are not very hopeful about Trump, but are working on reviving momentum for the Palestinian cause in light of regional and international complexities, and Israel’s race against time to usurp more land.

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