Opinion

Mahmoud Abbas is waiting for a Biden administration

Barely any ties remain between the Palestinian Authority and the Trump administration.

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a meeting of the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, Aug. 18, 2020. Photo by Flash90.
Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a meeting of the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, Aug. 18, 2020. Photo by Flash90.
David Hacham
David Hacham

The historic Abraham Accords have exposed the profoundly weakened position in which the Palestinian Authority now finds itself.

Mahmoud Abbas is almost certainly hoping for the return of a U.S. Democratic administration—one he believes will turn back the clock on several recent U.S. policies regarding the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Barely any ties remain between Abbas and the Trump administration. Relations are at their lowest point since the start of the Oslo peace process in the early 1990s.

Spawning that deterioration is a series of U.S. decisions that constitute a major departure from long-held American positions towards the Palestinians.

Attempting to convey the P.A.’s ability to implement unified, decisive positions in the face of U.S. treatment it views as unfair; Abbas has abandoned any pretense of cordial relations with America and has ramped up his condemnation of what he views as Trump’s unbalanced positions and bias. His audiences are the Palestinian street, the Arab world and the international community.

It’s worth recalling what led to this breakdown.

Following his election, the American president delayed his response to Abbas’s request for a congratulatory phone call. That conversation, which took place some 10 days after the request was made, was interpreted as a clear attempt by Trump to downgrade Abbas’s status as head of Fatah and the P.A.

The appointment of David Friedman as the U.S. ambassador to Israel in May 2017 was seen as a provocative and offensive maneuver. Friedman, who was on record as holding explicitly right-wing positions, including enthusiastic support for Israeli development in the West Bank, was viewed as highly problematic by the P.A.

In December of the same year, the United States recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital; a declaration swiftly followed by the deed of officially opening a U.S. embassy there.

Also in 2017, the Trump administration closed the PLO office in Washington, D.C., in an attempt to force the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, and to punish them for and to deter them from submitting complaints against Israel at The Hague.

The immediate Palestinian response was to submit a new complaint to The Hague, opposing Israel’s decision to clear the village of Khan Al-Ahmar in the West Bank. The January 2020 “Peace to Prosperity” Mideast peace plan put forth by the Trump administration was dismissed by Abbas as an unfair and hostile blueprint.

The passage of the Taylor Force Act, of March 2018, which halts funding to the P.A. while it continues to pay monthly stipends to convicted terrorists and the families of killed terrorists, further angered Abbas. In 2018 alone, the P.A. paid $360 million to terrorists or their families—about 7 percent of the P.A.’s budget.

The United States, which was the principal funder of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, paying $ 1.1 billion annually (a third of UNRWA’s yearly budget), also withdrew funding to the organization in 2018.

These measures have ruptured both diplomatic relations between America and the Palestinians, as well as the security-intelligence cooperation between the P.A., the United States and Israel.

In October 2018, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the U.S. General Consulate would merge with the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem and that the United States would manage relations with the Palestinians through a Special Palestinian Affairs Unit. The P.A.’s policy has been to avoid any cooperation with the new unit.

That cooperation, led by the P.A.’s head of the General Intelligence Services, Maj. Gen. Majed Faraj, on the Palestinian side, was suspended by the P.A. in May 2020, in protest of Israeli plans to apply sovereignty in the Jordan Valley. Even the official contacts between the P.A. and the CIA, which had managed to weather the crisis, were suspended a number of weeks ago.

Ultimately, the P.A.’s decision to cut off ties with a superpower like the United States was counterproductive. It only served to weaken the P.A.’s status in America’s eyes.

The Palestinians have thus adopted a waiting position ahead of the U.S. presidential. Their hope is that a Biden administration will bring an end to what the P.A. views as four nightmarish years for the Palestinian cause.

But when viewed for what they are—the withholding of funding for terrorist stipends, including terrorists who have murdered U.S. citizens, the opening of a U.S. embassy to Israel in the Israeli capital and the defunding of UNRWA—any future U.S. administration will be hard-pressed to reverse course. Gambling that they will do so may prove to be a mistake. The P.A. would be better served by coming out of its defensive crouch and starting to progress towards reconciliation with Israel and America.

IDF Col. David Hacham (Ret.) is a former adviser on Arab affairs to seven Israeli Ministers of Defense, including Moshe Arens and Moshe Ya’alon. He is a publishing expert at: www.MirYamInstitute.org.

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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