By Ramzy Baroud
The “deal of the century” is a farce. We suspected that, of course, but, upon his return from Washington, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed in more detail why the long-anticipated US plan has no basis in reality. Netanyahu told his cabinet there are “no concrete details” to report on the White House peace plan. One has to suspect that the “plan” was, all along, the US disavowal of the so-called peace process and the dropping of the “honest peace broker” act.
In fact, that much has been achieved, especially with the US decision last December to accept Israel’s illegal annexation of East Jerusalem by agreeing to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Since then, Israel has initiated a clear strategy to annex the West Bank. Its top officials are contending that the “two-state solution” is not even deserving of a conversation. “We are done with that,” said Israel’s Education Minister Naftali Bennett in remarks to students in New York. “They have a Palestinian state in Gaza.”
The Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas was, thus, left in an inviable position. It is lashing out left and right, convulsing like a wounded animal.
It is hard to imagine that, at the moment, Abbas is orbiting within a grand strategy of any kind. Random statements and attacks on his Palestinian rivals, the Israelis and the Americans — mostly for betraying him — is all that seems to keep his name in the news.
“May God demolish his home,” was one of the statements attributed to the Palestinian leader in response to President Donald Trump’s decision regarding Jerusalem. That was on January 14. A few days ago, Abbas referred to David Friedman, the ardently right-wing and pro-Israel US ambassador to Israel, as a “son of a dog.” Friedman is an avid supporter of the illegal Jewish settlements, but name-calling is not a promising sign of a constructive Palestinian strategy.
Abbas feels beleaguered, disowned by Washington and a victim of an elaborate US-Israeli plot that has cost Palestinians precious time and much land, while leaving Abbas with nothing but an embarrassing political legacy. He is not necessarily angry because the US has betrayed its role in the “peace process.” He is angry because he has, for years, perceived himself as a member of the American camp of “moderates” in the Middle East. Now, however, he matters not. The US government is notorious for betraying its allies.
The US, now run by the most pro-Israel administration in years, has no role for Abbas to play. They renounced him, and carried on to imagine a “solution” in Palestine that only serves the interests of Israel. A recent meeting, chaired by leading pro-Israel officials in Washington, including Jared Kushner, was dubbed a “brainstorming session” on how to solve the Gaza crisis. No Palestinian was involved in the conference.
Since Abbas had hung all his hopes on Washington, he is left with no plan B. The Europeans don’t have the will, desire or political clout to replace the US. They have often served as lackeys to US foreign policy, and it would not be easy, if at all possible, for any European government to replace the US as the new “honest peace broker.”
Abbas’ popularity — and that of the PA — among Palestinians is negligible. In fact, 70 percent of Palestinians want him to step down immediately, according to a poll conducted last December. Yet, at 83 and suffering from ill health, Abbas is still holding on tightly to his chair.
It may appear that, during this time of political uncertainty and isolation, it would be advantageous for Abbas to reach out to other Palestinian factions. However, the opposite is true. Abbas is accusing his main rival, Hamas, of an assassination attempt on PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah.
After a promising agreement, signed in Cairo between Fatah — Abbas’ party — and Hamas in October last year, all hopes have been dashed once more. In a joint conference with visiting Bulgarian President Rumen Radev in Ramallah last week, Abbas proclaimed: “The Gaza Strip has been hijacked by Hamas. They must immediately hand over everything, first and foremost security, to the Palestinian national consensus government.”
What “national consensus government” is Abbas referring to? There have been no general elections since Hamas won a parliamentary majority in 2006, while Abbas himself rules on an expired mandate.
Oddly, it is the conflict between Abbas and Hamas that is allowing both sides to impose themselves on the Palestinian public, which is left disenchanted, practically leaderless and facing the brunt of occupation and apartheid on its own. Instead of mending fences with the Palestinian people, Abbas continues with his political one-man show, encouraged by his enablers in the PA, who are equally responsible for the havoc wreaked by the US and Israeli governments.
Still, the Palestinian leadership (whether in the PA or the PLO) continues its desperate attempts to resuscitate the “peace process.” They are lonely warriors in a political illusion that has been abandoned even by its own masters.
For Abbas and the PA, participating in the US-led project was the final bridge they hoped would not be burned. However, the decision to relocate the US Embassy signaled that the last bridge was indeed up in flames — but Abbas is yet to be convinced of this obvious reality.
From American and Israeli viewpoints, the “peace process” could be considered a success. It allowed the US to define the political agenda in the Middle East and for Israel to shape the physical reality of the Occupied Territories in any way it found suitable.
The Palestinian leadership has emerged as the biggest loser. It first sat at the negotiation table to talk of borders, refugees, water, territories and Jerusalem, only to be left with nothing. It has lost both credibility and legitimacy. The space in which it was permitted to negotiate has withered year after year.
The Palestinian people must reflect on this current harsh reality, but also hope for a new beginning predicated on unity, the re-articulating of national priorities, and a new strategy.