The forthcoming publication of the American “Deal of the Century” has trapped the Palestinians. The Palestinian leadership will have to respond, but the Palestinian Authority has not yet decided how.
Hamas and the PA do not want to lose power; protests will probably be limited, but waves of terror may resume.
The forthcoming publication of the American peace plan known as the “Deal of the Century” has surprised the Palestinians and now poses a major challenge to the Palestinian leadership, as the Palestinian issue is now considered globally as a low priority – even by Palestinians themselves and by the Arab world.
Some Fatah officials say that a situation similar to that of 1947 has been created when the Palestinians had to decide whether they would accept the UN “Partition Plan,” as expressed in UNGA Resolution 181 of the General Assembly, and the Palestinians made the mistake of rejecting the plan. The Palestinian refusal today to discuss the “Deal of the Century” may be another historic mistake that the Palestinians will pay dearly for in the future. According to Israeli media reports, the Palestinians will be offered a plan to establish a Palestinian state on most of the West Bank.
The IDF put all its units in the West Bank on alert, preparing for the possibility of an outbreak of disturbances immediately after the official publication of the “Deal of the Century” details. The IDF is also preparing for escalation along the Gaza border, with the IDF reinforcing its forces and the “Iron Dome” system for potential rocket fire towards Israel. It is not yet clear how the Palestinians will react, but all factions have already announced a “Day of Rage” on the day that the American peace plan will be officially announced.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, who is abroad, also announced his organization’s willingness to meet with Fatah and other factions in Cairo to ensure that the “Deal of the Century” will fail.
So far, the Palestinian Authority has sufficed with protests, statements, and threats in response to steps that President Trump took on the Palestinian-Israeli issues, such as the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the transfer of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, the U.S. recognition of settlement legality, and the cutting of U.S. aid to UNRWA.
Only Hamas took violent measures when it dispatched 40,000 Palestinians to attack IDF soldiers at the Gaza border on the day of the U.S. embassy transfer to Jerusalem, on May 14, 2018. The results were very harsh for Palestinians, with 61 Palestinians dead and 2,700 wounded. The casualties sparked severe criticism against the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip, and it is very doubtful whether Hamas will be ready to repeat this fatal tactic after announcing a temporary halt to the “March of Return.”
Experience indicates that even the Palestinian leadership’s political measures in response to President Trump’s “pro-Israel” decisions have not been implemented. For instance, the Palestinian Central Council took a series of resolutions on suspending the Oslo Accords and the Paris Agreement, as well as freezing the PA-Israel security coordination and disengagement from Israel, but all of these decisions remained on paper only.
What options do Palestinians have in response to Trump’s “Deal of the Century?”
- Dismantling the Palestinian Authority: Mahmoud Abbas announced on January 26, 2020, that the Palestinian leadership would look into all possible responses to the “Deal of the Century,” including the future of the PA. The PA chairman can announce the dissolution of the PA and return the administrative “keys” back to Israel, but the likelihood of that occurring is low. Mahmoud Abbas, 85 years old, is very attached to his seat of power and will not give that up. Abbas built, through his two sons, an economic empire in the territories and turned them into billionaires. Giving up the PA would mean the collapse of the empire that he built. Fatah officials also have financial interests and will not allow the dismantling of the PA.
- War in the Gaza Strip: The Hamas Movement is not interested in a wide military confrontation with Israel that could lead to the collapse of Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip. The maximum that Hamas can do is a few short rounds of fighting to demonstrate that it is working to destroy the “Deal of the Century.” The general trend of Hamas has been to move towards an arrangement with Israel, which is occasionally accompanied by a “dribble” of rocket fire to maintain a permanent lever of pressure on Israel.
- Opening the “Third Intifada” in the West Bank and east Jerusalem: Mahmoud Abbas’ popular resistance strategy has been a massive failure. The possibility of a third intifada exists, but the motivation of West Bank residents for such activity is low given the relatively good economic situation in the West Bank as compared to the Gaza Strip. The rise of another intifada would severely damage the economic situation of West Bank residents. However, Mahmoud Abbas, who also heads Fatah, may try to coordinate mass demonstrations in the West Bank through Fatah’s Tanzim, to show that the PA will not silently acquiesce to America’s “green light” to annex the Jordan Valley and parts of Area C.
There may also be spontaneous outbreaks of riots in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, as well as the resumption of terror attacks by individuals.
The PA is in a crisis and will have to announce a series of diplomatic steps after learning the details of the “Deal of the Century.” Sources say that the PA must respond to show its people that it that will act against the American ignoring Palestinian “red lines.”
Wassel Abu Yousef, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, said on January 26, 2020, that the Palestinians had drafted a strategic plan against the “Deal of the Century” and that it would be placed on Mahmoud Abbas’s desk immediately following the official announcement of the U.S. plan.
The program includes the following steps:
- Declaring a Palestinian state under Israeli occupation.
- Appeal to UN institutions to accept the state of “Palestine” as a full member of the UN.
- Appeal to UN institutions as well as the International Court of Justice in The Hague to protect Palestinian rights.
- Enabling “popular resistance” in all its forms.
- Implementation of the Palestinian Central Council’s decisions regarding the political and security agreements with Israel.
- An overall boycott of Israel.
Ziad Abu Zayyad, the former PLO Minister of Jerusalem Affairs called on the Palestinian leadership on January 26, 2020, not to grant a “gift” to Israel with a clear rejection of the “Deal of the Century.”
According to him, the PA should publish a message in this language:
We welcome all the positive elements contained in President Trump’s plan and call on the UN and world superpowers, including the United States, to convene a peace conference to develop the Trump program and address the negative aspects through negotiation based on international decisions.
In the coming days, it will be clearer what direction the Palestinians from the Gaza Strip and the Muqata headquarters in Ramallah are heading.