Arab leaders pressure Abbas to accept Trump’s ‘deal of the century’

Egypt and Saudi Arabia are putting mounting pressure on the Palestinian Authority leader, though senior Fatah sources believe that Mahmoud Abbas will not compromise on Palestinian “red lines.”

U.S. President Donald Trump and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas attend a joint press conference in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on May 23, 2017. Credit: Flash90.
U.S. President Donald Trump and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas attend a joint press conference in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on May 23, 2017. Credit: Flash90.
Yoni Ben Menachem
Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as director general and chief editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.

As time goes by, the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah is getting more frustrated. The date of the planned transfer of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on May 14 is drawing closer. This will be the day before Nakba, or “disaster” day, the anniversary of the declaration of the State of Israel’s independence, which the Palestinians mark as the anniversary of their national disaster.

Of course, there will be no soul-searching on the Palestinian side with regard to how they came to this situation. It is more convenient for them to blame the West for their situation.

Recently, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki sharply criticized Arab countries. On March 9, the official Palestinian news agency WAFA reported that he said:

“The lack of Arab resolve in implementing their resolutions is what is encouraging the United States to behave the way it does right now, and to declare its recognition of Jerusalem. It also encourages smaller countries, such as Guatemala, to decide to transfer their embassies to Jerusalem.”

P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas stands alone, without any practical Arab support. Any support is purely in the form of lip-service declarations, such as statements regarding Jerusalem. Even the threats made by Arab countries three months ago towards the Trump administration have disappeared. Several Arab countries, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, began to come to terms with the fact that as they can’t change the U.S. president, and that they need to be more pragmatic and try to work with him on his new plan, known as “the deal of the century.”

Political pressure on the Palestinian Authority

The Palestinian leadership is very disappointed that the Arab countries have not, as of yet, carried out their resolutions regarding Jerusalem and the Palestinian problem, which were taken at the Arab Summit Conference. For this reason, the Palestinians have few expectations from the upcoming Arab Summit Conference due to take place soon in Saudi Arabia. According to senior Fatah sources, in recent weeks, heavy pressure has been put on Abbas to accept President Trump’s deal. Egypt and Saudi Arabia are closer to the American position than that of the Palestinians, and they are pressing the P.A. leader to show political pragmatism.

The east Jerusalem newspaper al-Quds reported on March 17 that both Arab countries were putting pressure on Abbas and on King Abdullah of Jordan to stop opposing the “deal of the century.”

Even the European countries, which usually support the Palestinian position, don’t want to clash with the Trump administration with regard to the Palestinian issue. They are expecting Abbas to be prepared to listen to the details of the new proposal and not reject it out of hand.

Essentially, the Arab and international consensus is that the United States is the only country that can serve as the main broker in this situation and put pressure on Israel to reach a political settlement whereby the final status of Jerusalem is resolved through negotiation.

Abbas is currently under political, economic and financial pressure to agree to the new deal. This also includes indirect threats that if he refuses to do so, he will be replaced by another leader.

Saudi Arabia trying to convince Abbas to drop his opposition

The Al-Khaleej Online (London) newspaper reported on March 16 that Saudi Arabia was very actively involved in trying to convince the P.A. leader to soften his opposition to the U.S. “deal of the century.”

A senior source in the P.A. told the publication that Saudi Arabia is trying to convince Abbas to agree to the American plan. Its most recent suggestion is to convince President Trump to postpone the transfer of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem scheduled for May 14.

Similarly, Saudi Arabia has offered to establish a five-member council—composed of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United States, the Palestinian Authority and Israel—to discuss the issues that the Palestinians find most problematic and to attempt to reach agreements. Saudi Arabia is also prepared to help find a solution to the financial crisis that UNRWA, which takes care of Palestinian refugees, is facing.

Egypt is also helping the Trump administration soften Arab opposition to the deal. The newspaper al-Araby al-Jadeed (London) reported on March 16 that according to political sources in Egypt, Egypt has launched diplomatic attempts to convince Jordan to participate in related discussions.

Jordan has coordinated its opposition to the plan with the P.A. It is therefore important, from the viewpoint of the U.S. administration, to put a stop to this cooperation.

Abbas with King Abdullah II

Abbas (center, left) met with King Abdullah II in Jordan on March 12. (Royal Hashemite Court Archives)

The Jordanians claim that “the deal of the century” is not balanced and is biased in favor of Israel.

According to the news report, U.S. advisor Jared Kushner secretly visited Cairo at the beginning of March 2018 and met with Egypt intelligence chief and director of President al-Sisi’s office, Abbas Kamal, who is they discussed Jordan’s position.

Several days later, Jordanian Prime Minister Hani al-Mulki also arrived in Cairo for a meeting with Al-Sisi, in which this issue was discussed.

Will Mahmoud Abbas agree?

Abbas has shown consistency in his determined opposition to the new U.S. diplomatic plan.

In the face of the current moderate position of the Arab states, he is trying to suggest alternatives. In his most recent speech to the U.N. Security Council, Abbas suggested the establishment of an international organization to mediate between the P.A. and Israel, of which the United States could be a member. The idea did not gain much traction. As both the United States and Israel were opposed to the idea, it had no chance of success.

According to senior Fatah sources, Abbas also sent a suggestion to the Trump administration via a third party to first of all define the borders of a Palestinian state in accordance with the 1967 lines, with an exchange of territories, and then continue the negotiations from there. However, his suggestion was soundly rejected.

Apparently, what interests him right now is preparing for his retirement from politics, while leaving behind a legacy of strict adherence to Palestinian “red lines.”

Abbas has already declared that he will not yield on these; he will not end his life “with treachery.” For this reason, according to senior Fatah sources, the current dispute with the Trump administration on the subject of Jerusalem and the “deal of the century” serves his desire to step down dramatically from the political stage, going into Palestinian history as the leader who never gave in to American and Israeli pressure.

Abbas fled from the Camp David summit in July 2000 when he thought that Yasser Arafat would compromise with U.S. President Bill Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak on a final-status agreement. He did not want his name to be linked to it.

His 13 years of government as leader of the P.A. are seen by the Palestinians as one huge failure. He is seeking to end his political career with a “national achievement” that would compensate for that record. From his point of view, rejecting the American plan outright—and withstanding the pressures upon him—will be his greatest achievement as a leader.

This article originally appeared on the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs website.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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