Palestinians in Gaza burn pictures of President Donald Trump, Prime Minister Netanyahu and King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain. (Flash90/Abed Rahim Khatib) (Flash90/Abed Rahim Khatib)
Palestinians in Gaza burn pictures

When you radicalize your people against Israel and the US in such a way, how can you expect Palestinian leaders NOT to veto meeting with Israelis?

By Khaled Abu Toameh, The Gatestone Institute

Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riad Malki seems to have committed a “crime.” He said that the Palestinians are prepared to hold a meeting with Israelis! Malki made this scandalous statement during a meeting last week with foreign journalists.

“The Palestinian leadership has confidence in Russian President Vladimir Putin,” Malki said, referring to the possibility of holding a video conference meeting between PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu under the auspices of the Russian president. “The Palestinians will consider this possibility if Russia determines that it’s useful.”

The Palestinian leadership, since 2014, has been boycotting peace talks with Israel. Since 2017, the Palestinian leadership has also been boycotting the US administration in response to President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Abbas, on May 19, announced his decision to renounce all agreements and understandings with Israel and the US, including security cooperation. As far as the Palestinian leadership is concerned, Israel and the US administration are now the main enemies of the Palestinians. It is prohibited to talk to any Israeli or US official. It has also become taboo for any Palestinian to talk about holding meetings with Israeli or US officials.

Malki’s statements have therefore sparked widespread anger among Palestinians, some of whom are denouncing him and calling for his resignation.

The ‘Moderate’ Faction

Notably, those who are now condemning Malki are not only from extremist groups opposed to any peace process with Israel, but also from Abbas’s own ruling Fatah faction. This is the same Fatah that is regularly referred to in the international media as the “moderate” faction of the Palestinians.

Founded in 1959, Fatah is the full name of the Palestinian National Liberation Movement. In 1967, Fatah joined the PLO, which signed the Oslo Accord with Israel in 1993, ostensibly to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by means of territorial concessions.

At the time, then PLO leader Yasser Arafat sent a letter to then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin claiming that the PLO was willing to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist, commit to finding a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and relinquish all forms of terrorism.

Twenty-seven years later, the leaders of Fatah evidently believe that conducting negotiations with Israel is a “crime” and that Palestinians who still believe in a peace process with Israelis at the very least need to be removed from their jobs.

Responding to Malki’s statements, senior Fatah official Tawfik Tirawi issued a stern warning to the Palestinian foreign minister and accused him of acting in violation of the Palestinian “national consensus.” Addressing Malki, the Fatah official said:

“It is time for you to go home for self-reflection. You are no longer able to express, with a minimum of diplomacy, the aspirations of the [Palestinian] people. The prime minister is urgently required to replace you.”

Because of Tirawi’s background and senior position in Fatah, his attack on the Palestinian foreign minister carries weight. Tirawi, who holds the rank of Brigadier-General and is a member of the Fatah Central Committee, created and headed the Palestinian General Intelligence Service in 1994.

It is also notable that in the wake of Tirawi’s attack on Malki, no Fatah leader has come out in Malki’s defense. Fatah’s silence, in fact, can be seen as an endorsement of Tirawi’s call for dismissing a Palestinian official who expresses readiness to hold meetings with Israelis.

Tirawi’s attack on Malki, meanwhile, has been welcomed by several Palestinian groups that reject Israel’s right to exist, including the Iranian-funded Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ).

Hamas said Malki’s comments indicate that the Palestinian leadership is not serious about its threat to walk away from all agreements and understandings with Israel. “These statements show that the Palestinian leadership lacks the will to confront [Israeli] plans to annex the West Bank,” Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said. “They also show that the Palestinian leadership is continuing to bet on its relations with the occupation government.”

PIJ said in a separate remark that Malki’s announcement “expose[s] the size of the confusion in the performance of the Palestinian Authority.” According to PIJ, the message also reveals the “contradictory positions and actions of Palestinian officials regarding meetings with the enemy.”

The PLO’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) called for firing Malki and holding him accountable for his readiness to resume peace talks with Israel. “The PFLP views with seriousness the statements attributed to Malki, which reflect the Palestinian Authority’s continued adherence to the illusions of negotiations [with Israel],” the group said in a statement. “The PFLP considers these comments as part of a trend that is turning against the Palestinian national and factional consensus.”

‘Political Heresy’

Another PLO group, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), called on Malki to “stop your political heresy and abide by the decisions of the legislative bodies of the [PLO] National and Central Councils.” These decisions advocate cutting off all relations with Israel, including security cooperation between the Palestinian security forces and the IDF in the West Bank. The DFLP said that Malki’s remarks “carry dangerous positions and intentions that contradict the general trend adopted by the Palestinians towards Israel.”

Not surprisingly, Malki, because of his apparent readiness to conduct a dialogue with Israel, is also facing a campaign of incitement on various social media platforms.

The attacks on Malki are hardly a surprise, given growing anti-Israel and anti-US sentiments among Palestinians.

This hostility is the direct result of the Palestinian leadership’s continued incitement and fiery rhetoric against Israel and the US. Day in and day out, Palestinian leaders drill into the minds of their people that Israel rejects peace and is committing “war crimes” against Palestinians.

The same leaders insist with deadly deliberation that the US administration and Trump are “biased” in favor Israel and hate the Palestinians. When you radicalize your people against Israel and the US in such a way, how can you expect Palestinian leaders not to veto meeting with Israelis?

Under the current circumstances, it is impossible to talk about the resumption of a peace process between Israel and the Palestinians: as Malki learned the hard way, even as much as a word about negotiations from the mouth of a Palestinian leader sounds — at the very least — the death knell of his career.

Moreover, as Malki is also under attack also from “moderates,” one can only ask what “non-moderates” could have in store for the besieged foreign minister — or for any leader who might dare to return to a negotiating table with Israel?

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