ABBAS LESS WORRIED
الخميس, 11 آيار (مايو), 2017
Given the warmth with which President Donald Trump received him, President Mahmoud 'Abbas returned from the summit less worried than he was before," writes Hani al-Masri on the Palestinian website www.masarat.ps.
This is because the U.S. administration is still in the phase of exploration and listening to the various parties. It has still not developed a position or a plan. And this leaves some room for influencing it, especially since the president and his team come from outside the traditional political establishment and are consequently not bound by the former's approach to this issue, even though they cannot veer too far from it.
Palestinian and Arab kowtowers have vastly exaggerated the visit's importance and results, so much so that one flatterer went so far as to say that Trump needs Abu Mazen more than Abu Mazen needs him. These kowtowers do not care to consider the negative indications; they only focus on the warmth of the welcome, on the raising of the Palestinian flag, and on Trump's use of the term 'president' when addressing Abu Mazen. But they ignore the fact that Trump and his administration's members focused mostly on the president and the PA's security role, and demanded that the Palestinians should unify their position against 'terrorism.' Moreover, the White House's spokesman said that the talks dealt with Palestinian incitement in the media and in school curriculums, and on the need to cease paying salaries to the families of martyrs, prisoners, and the wounded.
But more serious was something that did not receive the necessary attention; namely, that Trump did not address the issue of establishing a Palestinian state. And this means that his previous statement that he does not care if the end is a one-state or a two-state solution was no mere coincidence. But he did confirm that he would mediate between the two sides without imposing a solution on them and would agree to anything that they may reach.
True, Trump recognized the president's legitimacy and praised him, which strengthens the Palestinian role and drives back the specter of Arab guardianship over the Palestinians, which had lately raised its head, especially during the first days of Trump's presidency. That was seen as an attempt to disregard the Palestinian role and give priority to what has come to be known as 'the regional solution.' But we should not be bitten from the same snake pit twice: That of giving priority to recognizing the Palestinian leadership and its role at the expense of Palestinian rights. We have been suffering from this ever since the  Oslo Accords were signed.
What aggravates the situation further is that President 'Abbas did not address many important points in his speech, especially as regards to what the occupation is doing against the Palestinian people. He did not mention the vast expansion of settlement colonialism nor did he repeat his old demand for a settlement freeze as a precondition for resuming negotiations. He did not mention the home demolitions, the daily arrests, stripping the Jerusalemites of their identity papers, and the emptying of Area-C territories of its inhabitants as a prelude to annexing them. In fact, he went so far as to stress that he was ready to send his delegation [to the negotiations] and that he relies first on God and second on the U.S. president in an attempt to play on Trump's love for praise, hoping that this would have a great influence on him.
Moreover, 'Abbas did not even mention the Palestinian prisoners' hunger strike, which entered its 17th day during the Washington summit, during his press conference. He did however mention it during the talks with Trump, describing it as an explosive development that has to do with humanitarian privileges that the prisoners had previously secured and the Israeli prison authorities have reneged on.
Based on the above, we fear that we are still pursuing a policy of wagering on the U.S. administration while ignoring other states. We have paid a steep price for this, as indicated by the negative change in the vote of various states in Palestine's favor at the UN and its affiliated bodies. For example, there was an exaggerated welcome for UNESCO's recent resolution regarding Jerusalem, without noting the diminishing number of votes in our favor. All the European states with the exception of Sweden either voted against us or abstained, while states such India that used to be among the Palestinian cause's closest friends are now abstaining from voting in its favor.
The wager on the Trump administration is a losing one, which is not to deny the importance of dealing with the administration and trying to limit the loss and damage, and to exploit any available opportunity. But this must be based of the conviction that Trump cannot be any better than the 14 presidents who preceded him, all of whom were biased in Israel's favor for different reasons and motives. Nor is there anything in the Palestinian or Arab situation that makes such change in bias likely. In fact, there is no question that Trump will be worse than his predecessors, given what he represents and as indicated by the first hundred days that he and his team have had in the White House, especially the team that is concerned with the Palestinian/Israeli conflict.
The source of optimism among some Palestinians has to do with Trump's announcement that he is determined to reach a solution and to do so quickly, and that he believes that this will be easier than he had imagined – as indicated by the speed with which he contacted and received 'Abbas and placed the issue on the table, and by his plans for an imminent visit [to the region], his determination to change the customary U.S. policy regarding the negotiations and the means and methods of reaching an agreement by cloning his expertise as a businessman who is adept at concluding deals.
But even if one were to accept this – although it is too early to be sure– it calls for greater caution on our part, because, even if it differs from his predecessors' approach in form, the content and aims of Trump's approach will not differ from the Israeli viewpoint in essence. Suffice to confirm that he totally excludes international law, UN resolutions, and the need for a solution to be based on an effective international framework.
In light of the above, there are a number of possible scenarios:
- One: The situation will remain as is while negotiations will be resumed without a real freeze on settlement activities. Alternatively, negotiations may not be resumed and the current policy of managing the conflict without trying to resolve it will continue. This is what the Palestinian side prefers because it is the less bad scenario.
- Two: Negotiations will be resumed within the framework of a regional solution – which is currently Israel's preference. This may begin by holding a regional conference, provided that Arab/Israeli relations are first normalized, and the Arabs are then used to pressure the Palestinians to offer new concessions that would allow the U.S. plan to establish an Arab/U.S./Israeli NATO to succeed.
- Three (which is the worst): Trump will try his luck in succeeding where his predecessors have failed. He will work on concluding 'the deal of the century' by proposing his vision of a solution after exploring the two sides' views and positions, and what they can accept or must reject. He will then propose his version of a solution to be accepted or rejected without opening the door for endless negotiations. This is the scenario that the Trump administration prefers.
Finally, it is worth noting that former Hamas head, Khaled Mish'al – who had previously warned against the dangers of direct negotiations with Israel since they would be futile and carry a great risk – said in an interview shortly before he stepped down that Trump has a different vision, is more daring than his predecessors, and must achieve peace. What this suggests (bearing in mind the differences in motives and reasons) is that this losing wager on the U.S. administration is not the monopoly of any one Palestinian camp. The two main conflicting camps share this same wager, which will only fan the flames of competition and conflict between them, making it more and more a struggle for leadership, representation, and the PA – even though the latter is a self-rule authority under occupation – rather than a conflict over the means and programs capable of ending the occupation and achieving Palestinian national rights.
The Palestinian leadership needs a new approach that first and foremost wagers on the people, activates their sources of power and their insistence on standing their ground and defending their rights; on the Palestinian cause's justice and moral superiority; and on the fact that that cause is the heart of the conflict in the region. After all, all parties – rules, states, and movements of all varieties, including the takfiri and terrorist groups – exploit it. This makes the Palestinian cause a factor of instability that must be addressed so as to contain it and limit its repercussions, even if it proves impossible to resolve it completely.
These are all cards that the Palestinian leadership and parties can use within the framework of a deep conviction that the Palestinian factor will remain an important one.
"Its role may advance or retreat in light of developments and circumstances, but it cannot be ignored, no matter how far the Palestinian cause may drop down the list of Arab, regional and international priorities," concludes Masri.