Alongside the dramatic coronavirus and political developments in Israel, there are also developments on the Palestinian side that may not be as dramatic, but they are worth watching. The coronavirus scare has captured the mind of Palestinian public opinion.
Aside from the obvious issues of Palestinian anxiety about the spread of the disease, according to sources in Ramallah, there are also political concerns related to Mahmoud Abbas’ health, mainly since he is in the highest risk group. The octogenarian receives treatment that weakens his immune system.
According to our sources in Ramallah, Mahmoud Abbas does not receive audiences, and his discussions with operatives in the field are made via telephone. Fatah institutions also do not convene, and their power and coherence weaken; their connection with the district offices grows weaker. The municipality of Jenin, for example, refused to receive a delegation from Ramallah to coordinate the popular struggle against the Trump Plan. Now, the entire “Popular Struggle” program is crashing, including the active participation of Europeans on Friday marches.
On the Temple Mount, the coronavirus is also part of a theological debate. According to sources in east Jerusalem, the Hizb ut-Tahrir (Islamic Liberation Party), which is an anti-Jordanian radical party that also opposes the Palestinian Authority, planned to send a delegation to meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (and possibly the King) to request that Saudi Arabia replace Jordan as the “guardian” of the al-Aksa compound (Temple Mount). The Hizb ut-Tahrir is considered to be robust with strong influence among many of the mosques’ activists. It became clear to Jordan that among the members of the delegation were also Waqf personnel. The Kingdom threatened them that it would immediately stop their salaries if such a delegation visit took place. Several heads of the Waqf rushed to Jordan to wash their hands of the expedition. Then the coronavirus story broke, and the matter was frozen.
Following the publication of the new Saudi Arabian curriculum, which determined that the mosque compound on the Temple Mount is the responsibility of Saudi Arabia, and the most recent initiative of the Hizb ut-Tahrir, it is clear to the Jordanians that Saudi Arabia is setting its eyes on the Mount. The Jordanians suspect that the actions are coordinated with Israel.
The Hizb ut-Tahrir showed its cards during the last Ramadan holiday when it announced the beginning and the end of the fasting according to the lunar calculations of Saudi Arabia, and not those of the PA and Jordan. The dispute led to fights in Hebron.
The rift continues between Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar and Ismail Haniyeh, who left Gaza to try to establish himself as the Hamas leader on the “outside.” Sinwar is the leader of the religious “Shura” in Gaza versus the “Politburo” of the outside. Khaled Mashal, despite his resignation from the Politburo in 2017, is still the strongest man, though, according to our sources in Ramallah, he has heart disease that restricts his activity.
Haniyeh has a problem. He and Sinwar differ about finding some kind of resolution with Israel. Sinwar promotes it; Haniyeh opposes any reconciliatory steps. Qatar, a supporter of Hamas and Gaza reconstruction, hosted Haniyeh after he left Gaza. The Qataris stand with Sinwar and are firmly behind finding a resolution. They have made their position very clear to Haniyeh.
Haniyeh may have to set himself up in Turkey or Iran. In Turkey, the Hamas office is already headed by Salah Aruri. As for Iran, it will not be an easy decision. Haniyeh defied Egypt when he left Gaza to deliver a eulogy for Iranian General Qasem Suleimani in Tehran. If Haniyeh moves to Lebanon, he will have to express his support for Hizbullah at a time that Lebanon is experiencing internal turmoil, and that will not be an easy decision for the Hamas official.