Skip to content
Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Palestinian Defiance of Washington

Filed under: Palestinians, Peace Process, The Middle East

In light of the blame game with Israel over the breakup of the peace talks, the Palestinians are now taking pains to show respect for the United States. Yet, even as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat lavish praise on President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, they have adopted a policy of defiance of Washington. Despite Palestinian caution, news reports have unveiled the current mood in Ramallah. Upon Abbas’ return from Washington, where he met with President Obama and rejected U.S. peace proposals, he was given a “hero’s welcome” for standing up to the U.S.1

These rejections of U.S. appeals have continued. Saeb Erekat said on April 4, 2014, that the Palestinian leadership had rejected an appeal by Washington not to sign international treaties, many of which fall under the auspices of the UN.2 As signatories, the Palestinians can use these UN bodies as part of their political warfare against Israel.

In addition, a senior Fatah figure and member of the organization’s central committee, Abbas Zaki, wrote on his Facebook page that the applications to UN bodies were made despite U.S. opposition in order to “expose its helplessness before the Israeli extremists.” Zaki accused U.S. mediator Martin Indyk of being that most dreadful of things, a “Zionist.”

When Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki was asked, back when the Palestinians were first preparing to turn to the United Nations, whether such a move did not contravene U.S. policy, he replied: “We do not belong to the American-influence club but to the nonaligned countries, that is, the Third World.” Palestinian diplomacy in that period indeed focused on Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the foremost America-hater in South America and main ally of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Chavez let the Palestinian Authority use his private plane to recruit support in South America for their maneuver in the United Nations, also part of the effort to prevent the United States from stopping the move.

What explains this Palestinian stance? To begin with, Maliki is typical of a sizable group of America-haters in Ramallah – the NGOs. He himself is a former member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, an explicitly anti-American organization. Second, the Palestinians estimated – correctly – that defying the United States would cost them little, if anything. They understood that the days in which President Clinton blamed them for the failure of the Camp David talks are a thing of the past, and President Obama will not hold them accountable for failure. At most, Obama will pin the blame on “both sides,” which means the Palestinians will make an important gain in terms of eroding the U.S.-Israel strategic alliance. Causing Kerry’s effort to fail, therefore, was in their interest.

The Palestinians are taking their case to the UN in a bid to free themselves from U.S. “hegemony” over the negotiating process and return to “internationalizing” the conflict. They know that Obama, in light of his general policy of outreach to Islam, is eager to avoid a situation in which he has to cast a veto in Israel’s favor. Ending U.S. financial aid to UN institutions that accept the Palestinian state entails weakening the U.S.’ standing in the organization, precisely under a president who views the UN as a major platform for U.S. foreign policy.

Moreover, the Arab world has been signaling to the Palestinians that the talks are dispensable. For example, at the Arab summit in Kuwait, the Arabs omitted support for Kerry’s peace efforts from their statements, unlike the declarations from the previous summit.

As for Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia on March 28, the Palestinians saw it as a U.S. humiliation. First, King Abdullah asked Obama to delay the visit because of “preparations for the Kuwait summit” – that is, for an anemic summit that Abdullah ultimately did not even bother to attend. When Obama did come to Saudi Arabia, he was received by one of the princes, not by the king, and instead of being honored with a grand procession, he was tossed about in a helicopter.

The Palestinians took it all in, realizing that defying the United States is now in fashion.


2. “Palestinian Negotiator Says Signing International Treaties Not Unilateral Move,” Journal of Turkish Weekly, April 5, 2014, “Erekat revealed that the Palestinian leadership rejected a U.S. appeal to halt applications to join international treaties in order to extend the direct peace talks with Israel for the release of the last group of prisoners.”