(February 4, 2020 / JNS) The Arab League’s decision to support Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s rejection of U.S. President Donald Trump’s peace plan came as a disappointment to Washington, but didn’t cause shock waves across the Middle East—or even in Ramallah, for that matter.
Aside from a sparsely attended demonstration at a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, there were no demonstrations in any Arab capital demanding “full rights” for the Palestinians in response to the deal’s publication. Even those who signed the Arab League resolution against the Trump plan were placid. The United Arab Emirates’ foreign minister continued tweeting about the need to examine the American proposal seriously, and Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi gave senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, the architect of the plan, quality screen time to tell the Egyptian people why the Palestinians were now missing a golden opportunity they will never get back.
Anyone who watched Kushner’s interview with Egyptian journalist Amr Adeeb could tell he believes that moderate Arab states will continue normalizing ties with Israel regardless of the Palestinian position on the “deal of the century.“
The streets and squares of Judea and Samaria were also quiet, and in the large Palestinian cities, aside from sporadic disturbances here and there, tempers weren’t particularly hot in the wake of Abbas’s speech. If the P.A. leader expected a massive outpouring of support from the Palestinian street over his threat to sever all ties with the United States and Israel, then he must have been disappointed.
It’s highly doubtful he managed to sway any hearts and minds with his claim that “the immigrants [to Israel] from Ethiopia and Russia aren’t Jews.” It isn’t even an original claim—I was reminded of how Abbas’s predecessor, Yasser Arafat, once tried to convince me, over the course of an entire hour, that Israeli Jews of Middle Eastern descent are in fact Arabs, not Jews.
There are at least two reasons for the Palestinian public’s apathy toward the U.S. peace plan. One is the belief that the plan, despite what’s been said about it, won’t be implemented immediately. As long as daily life remains undisturbed, as long as 60,000 work permits are granted each morning and the economic situation hasn’t dramatically worsened, there’s no reason to go out and clash with Israeli soldiers.
Unilateral Israeli steps on the ground, including annexation, could, of course, change the picture.
The other reason is the growing alienation of the Palestinian public from the leadership in Ramallah headed by Abbas. In the twilight of his rule, Abbas is perceived as irrelevant. On the one hand, everyone understands he won’t accept any deal pushed across his desk because he wants to go down in history as someone who didn’t give an inch, yet on the other they don’t believe he intends to completely sever ties with Israel, which would necessarily mean the P.A.’s collapse.
It appears that White House officials have also come to terms with the fact that Abbas won’t deliver the goods. Kushner said in his interview in Egypt that Abbas “wants peace but maybe isn’t capable” of delivering it, and in a rare remark, added that P.A. chief negotiator Saeb Erekat was almost entirely to blame for Palestinian rejectionism.
There’s no question that Erekat, one of the closest people to Abbas, views himself as one of the main players in the battle being waged behind the scenes in Ramallah over who will succeed Abbas. It remains to be seen whether he will be weakened or strengthened by Washington’s harsh attack against him.
But Erekat isn’t the only one vying for Abbas’s chair, nor is he necessarily the one with the best chance of attaining it. The most prominent name on the list of potential replacements—which also includes Abbas’s deputy in the Fatah movement, Mahmoud al-Aloul, and Jibril Rajoub—is Maj. Gen. Majid Faraj, the head of the P.A. General Intelligence Services.
Faraj theoretically has three advantages over his competitors. He controls the security services, is personally close to Abbas and is practically the only senior P.A. official who maintains close ties with the U.S. administration, just in case anyone in Ramallah nevertheless feels like looking for Trump’s phone number.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.
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