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18
Mar
2018

Arab Leaders Pressure Mahmoud Abbas


  • Egypt and Saudi Arabia are putting mounting pressure on the chairman of the Palestinian Authority to accept President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century.”
  • Senior Fatah sources reckon that Mahmoud Abbas will not compromise on Palestinian “red lines,” and when he retires from political life he will be known as the leader who did not succumb to pressure to accept the American offer.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman with Mahmoud Abbas

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in December 2017 (Saudi Press Office)

As time goes by, the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah is getting more frustrated. The date of the planned transfer of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on May 14, 2018 is drawing closer. This will be the day before Nakba, or “disaster,” day, the anniversary of the declaration of the State of Israel’s independence, which the Palestinians mark as the anniversary of their national disaster.

Of course, there will be no soul-searching on the Palestinian side with regard to how they came to this situation. It is more convenient for them to blame the West for their situation.

Recently, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki sharply criticized Arab countries. On March 9, 2018, the official Palestinian news agency WAFA reported that he said:

The lack of Arab resolve in implementing their resolutions is what is encouraging the United States to behave the way it does right now, and to declare its recognition of Jerusalem. It also encourages smaller countries, such as Guatemala, to decide to transfer their embassies to Jerusalem.

PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas stands alone, without any practical Arab support. Any support is purely in the form of lip service declarations, such as statements regarding Jerusalem. Even the threats made by Arab countries three months ago toward the Trump administration have disappeared. Several Arab countries, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, have begun to come to terms with the fact that they can’t change the U.S. president, and that they need to be more pragmatic and try to work with him on his new plan, known as “the deal of the century.”

Political Pressure on the Palestinian Authority

The Palestinian leadership is very disappointed that the Arab countries have not, as of yet, carried out their resolutions regarding Jerusalem and the Palestinian problem, which were taken at the Arab Summit Conference. For this reason, the Palestinians have few expectations from the upcoming Arab Summit Conference due to take place soon in Saudi Arabia. According to senior Fatah sources, in recent weeks, heavy pressure has been put on Mahmoud Abbas to accept President Trump’s “deal of the century.” Egypt and Saudi Arabia are closer to the American position than that of the Palestinians, and they are pressing the PA chairman to show political pragmatism.

The east Jerusalem newspaper al-Quds reported on March 17, 2018, that both Arab countries were putting pressure on Abbas and on King Abdullah of Jordan to stop opposing the “deal of the century.”

Even the European countries, which usually support the Palestinian position, don’t want to clash with the Trump administration with regard to the Palestinian issue. They are expecting Abbas to be prepared to listen to the details of the “deal of the century” and not to reject it out of hand.

Essentially, the Arab and international consensus is that the United States is the only country that can serve as the main broker in this situation and put pressure on Israel to reach a political settlement whereby the final status of Jerusalem is resolved through negotiation.

Mahmoud Abbas is currently under political, economic, and financial pressure to agree to the “deal of the century.” This also includes indirect threats that if he refuses to do so, he will be replaced by another leader.

Saudi Arabia Is Trying to Convince Abbas to Drop His Opposition

The Al-Khaleej Online (London) newspaper reported on March 16, 2018, that Saudi Arabia was very actively involved in trying to convince the PA chairman to soften his opposition to the U.S. “deal of the century.”

A senior source in the Palestinian Authority told the publication that Saudi Arabia is trying to convince Mahmoud Abbas to agree to the American plan, and its most recent suggestion is to convince President Trump to postpone the transfer of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem scheduled for May 14.

Similarly, Saudi Arabia has offered to establish a five-member council, composed of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United States, the Palestinian Authority, and Israel, to discuss the issues that the Palestinians find most problematic in the “deal of the century” and to attempt to reach agreements.

Saudi Arabia is also prepared to help find a solution to the financial crisis that UNRWA, which takes care of Palestinian refugees, is facing.

Egypt is also helping the Trump administration soften Arab opposition to the “deal of the century.”

The newspaper al-Araby al-Jadeed (London) reported on March 16, 2018, that according to political sources in Egypt, Egypt has launched diplomatic attempts to convince Jordan to participate in discussions regarding “the deal of the century.”

Jordan has coordinated its opposition to the plan with the Palestinian Authority. It is therefore important, from the viewpoint of the U.S. administration, to put a stop to this cooperation.

Abbas with King Abdullah II

Abbas (center left) met with King Abdullah II in Jordan on March 12, 2018.
(Royal Hashemite Court Archives)

The Jordanians claim that “the deal of the century” is not balanced and is biased in favor of Israel.

According to the news report, U.S. advisor Jared Kushner secretly visited Cairo at the beginning of March 2018 and met with Egyptian intelligence chief and director of President al-Sisi’s office, Abbas Kamal, and discussed Jordan’s position.

Several days later, Jordanian Prime Minister Hani al-Mulki also arrived in Cairo for a meeting with President al-Sisi, in which this issue was discussed.

Will Mahmoud Abbas Agree?

The chairman of the Palestinian Authority has shown consistency in his determined opposition to the new U.S. diplomatic plan.

In the face of the current moderate position of the Arab states, he is trying to suggest alternatives. In his most recent speech to the UN Security Council, Abbas suggested the establishment of an international organization to mediate between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, of which the United States could be a member. The idea did not gain much traction. As both the United States and Israel were opposed to the idea, it had no chance of success.

According to senior Fatah sources, Mahmoud Abbas also sent a suggestion to the Trump administration via a third party to first of all define the borders of a Palestinian state in accordance with the 1967 lines, with an exchange of territories, and then continue the negotiations from there. However, his suggestion was soundly rejected.

Apparently, what interests Mahmoud Abbas right now is preparing for his retirement from politics, while leaving behind a legacy of strict adherence to Palestinian “red lines.”

Abbas has already declared that he will not yield on these – he will not end his life “with treachery.” For this reason, according to senior Fatah sources, the current dispute with the Trump administration on the subject of Jerusalem and the “deal of the century” serves his desire to step down dramatically from the political stage, going into Palestinian history as the leader who never gave in to American and Israeli pressure.

Mahmoud Abbas fled from the Camp David summit in July 2000, when he thought that Yasser Arafat would compromise with President Clinton and Prime Minister Ehud Barak on a final status agreement. He did not want his name to be linked to it.

His 13 years of government as chairman of the Palestinian Authority are seen by the Palestinians as one huge failure. He is seeking to end his political career with a “national achievement” that would compensate for his failures. From his point of view, rejecting the American plan outright and withstanding the pressures upon him are his greatest achievement as Palestinian leader.

About Yoni Ben Menachem

Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as Director General and Chief Editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.
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