Mahmoud Abbas

While threatening to thwart Trump’s peace plan, the Palestinians are discovering that they are the only ones in the Arab world who oppose it.

By: Khaled Abu Toameh, Gatestone Institute

The Palestinian Authority (PA) has been working hard to persuade the Arab countries to support its position in the standoff with the US administration.

The PA leadership in Ramallah fears that without the backing of the Arab countries, the US administration will “impose” President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century” — the yet-to-be-announced plan for peace in the Middle East.

The Arab countries, however, appear to be preoccupied with other matters. For now, the Palestinians are getting much lip service from their Arab brothers, including promises to put pressure on the Trump administration possibly to “modify” its plan to make it less “harmful” to Palestinian demands and aspirations.

What is actually happening is that the PA leadership is terrified that many of the Arab countries will support the Trump plan, thus abandoning their Palestinian brothers and leaving them exposed to international pressure to accept the “deal of the century.” This fear does not seem to be unjustified.

Palestinian officials have already voiced concern that Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and some Gulf countries are in collusion with the Trump administration to “impose” the peace plan, the details of which have yet to be made public.

These Arab countries, the Palestinians point out, have endorsed a more pragmatic and conciliatory approach towards the reputed peace plan and are no longer expressing strong opposition to it, despite Palestinian claims that the main points of the “deal of the century” endorse the positions of the Israeli government.

Unlike the Palestinians, the Arab countries are obviously not interested in ruining their relations with the US administration. Their comments are likely more about preserving good relations with Washington than supporting the policies of the Israeli government.

‘Slap of the Century’

The Palestinians appear to be the only ones in the Arab world who are coming out on a daily basis against a plan no one has seen.

Hardly a day passes without a Palestinian official warning against Trump’s plan of “liquidation” or “slap of the century,” as some have begun referring to it. The Palestinians say they are also determined to foil the plan, notwithstanding the consequences.

“The Palestinians don’t care about the date when Trump’s plan will be announced because they reject it,” said Nabil Sha’ath, a former PA foreign minister who serves as a senior advisor to President Mahmoud Abbas.

“What has already been leaked about the plan is sufficient for us to reject it. We won’t accept an American plan that allows the US to restore its exclusivity over the peace process. If Washington wants to contribute to the peace process, it must be within the framework of an international multilateral forum.”

Another senior Abbas aide, Azzam al-Ahmed, said that Trump’s “deal of the century” won’t pass because it will not lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state. The US, he added, is no longer qualified to play the role of sole sponsor of any peace process between the Palestinians and Israel.

PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat also repeated the Palestinian opposition to Trump’s “deal of the century.” Accusing the US administration of seeking to “liquidate” the Palestinian cause and impose its dictates on the Palestinians, Erekat complained in a “political report” he submitted to members of the ruling Fatah faction in Ramallah last week that the “bold lines” of the Trump plan offer the Palestinians nothing but “eternal self-rule” and a “demilitarized” state.

Disappointing Arab Response to the Palestinian campaign

In the past few weeks, the PA leadership has been campaigning to muster Arab support for its opposition to the Trump plan. So far, however, the Palestinian effort has been only partially successful, if at all.

At a recent meeting in Brussels of Arab foreign ministers with their EU counterparts, the Palestinians demanded that the Arab countries endorse their position towards the Trump plan. The Palestinians are also pressing for a larger EU role in the peace process with Israel so that the US would no longer have exclusivity over peacemaking.

However, the Arab response to the Palestinian campaign has been disappointing for the Palestinians.

The Arab ministers rejected the Palestinian demand to diminish the US role in the peace process. “We don’t want to exclude the American role, which remains a major one,” the Arab ministers reportedly told the Palestinians.

The Arab countries have also refused to endorse the Palestinians’ fiery anti-US rhetoric. Judging from the tone of the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Morocco, they seem to adopt a soft approach towards the US administration and its yet-to-be-announced peace plan. Unlike the Palestinians, the Arab countries do not see the plan as a “conspiracy aimed at liquidating the Palestinian cause and national rights.”

Moreover, there is talk in Ramallah that some Arab countries have actually been pressuring the PA leadership to accept the Trump plan.

“Several pro-US Arab countries are still exerting pressure on the Palestinian leadership not to reject the American plan,” said political analyst Rasem Obeidat. “They are even asking the Palestinian leadership to deal with the plan in a positive manner.” He called on the Palestinians to stop relying on the Arabs and to unite their ranks and strengthen their internal front.

The Palestinians were hoping that the Arab and Islamic countries’ response to Trump’s December 6 decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would be much tougher. The very least the Palestinians were expecting was that these countries would respond by expelling the US ambassadors or shutting US embassies in Arab and Islamic capitals. This, of course, did not happen, much to the dismay of the Palestinians, who feel that they have been once again abandoned by their Arab and Muslim brothers.

Palestinian Issue No Longer at Top of Arabs’ list

The Arab countries appear to be fed up with the Palestinians. At most, they are prepared to offer the Palestinians public statements of support and promises to help them achieve their rights. Each one of these countries has its own problems to worry about and the Palestinian issue is no longer at the top of the Arabs’ list of priorities.

Egypt, for example, is preoccupied with its war against jihadist terrorists in Sinai and the upcoming presidential election, slated for late March. The Egyptians have bitter memories of meddling in the internal affairs of the Palestinians. For the past three months, the Egyptians have been trying, thus far unsuccessfully, to persuade Hamas and Abbas’s Fatah faction to proceed with the “reconciliation” agreement which the two parties signed in Cairo in November 2017.

In the past week, an Egyptian security delegation has held intensive discussions with Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip in a bid to solve the crisis, but to no avail. A Hamas delegation that visited Cairo last month to talk about ways of implementing the floundering “reconciliation” accord returned empty-handed to the Gaza Strip, after spending three weeks in Egypt.

The Saudis, for their part, are also busy with their domestic issues. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, is preoccupied with his plan to introduce major reforms in the kingdom and collect billions of dollars from corrupt princes and top officials. The PA leadership anyway does not seem to have much confidence in the young crown prince and suspects him also of colluding with the Trump administration to “impose” the “deal” on the Palestinians.

Similarly, Jordan is trying to deal with its own problems, and they appear to be huge. The Jordanian government’s recent decision to remove subsidies on bread has sparked a wave of street protests throughout the kingdom.

Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), meanwhile, are separately at work promoting their own agendas in the Palestinian political landscape.

The Qataris are supporting the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip, while the UAE is trying to promote its Palestinian proxy, deposed Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan, as the next Palestinian leader. The UAE has reportedly asked Dahlan to form a new party that would run in the next Palestinian presidential and parliamentary elections, if and when they ever take place.

Palestinians Forced to Face Unpleasant Truth

The PA leadership is not happy about the interference of Qatar and UAE in the internal affairs of the Palestinians. It is also not happy with the way Egypt seems to have endorsed Dahlan, an arch-enemy of Abbas. The PA sees Arab meddling in Palestinian affairs as harmful and counterproductive. It has yet to recover from the days when each Arab country had endorsed its own Palestinian faction.

The Palestinians are once again being forced to face the unpleasant truth that their Arab brothers are more interested in their own survival than in the Palestinian issue.

This Arab apathy towards the Palestinians is the result of a long-standing belief in the Arab world that the Palestinians are an ungrateful people who do not hesitate to bite the hand that feeds them. Palestinian support for Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait — a country that used to provide the Palestinians with millions of dollars annually — was the turning point in relations between the Arab countries and the Palestinians. Since then, the Palestinians have been almost entirely dependent on American and EU funding.

When Trump finally does announce his Middle East peace plan, the Palestinians will discover that they are alone in threatening to thwart it. The Palestinians have good reason to believe that the Arab countries are about to leave them to their own devices. And, after half a century of failed and corrupt leadership, the Palestinian devices leave much to be desired.

Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist, is based in Jerusalem.