(July 3, 2019 / The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs) The U.S.-led “Peace to Prosperity” conference in Manama, Bahrain, ended with a clear American victory over Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, who boycotted the conference but was unable to convince the Arab states and the Islamic world to do the same.
Abbas canceled the general strike that was scheduled for June 25, the opening day of the conference, and instead settled for three days of demonstrations and clashes in the West Bank. But his call, and that of the Fatah movement, to take to the streets evoked only a weak response.
The Palestinian public in the West Bank is still seething over recent exposés of severe corruption among the P.A. leadership and is in no hurry to cooperate with it.
Abbas’s failure is now the prevailing topic in the Palestinian territories, and may well give the Trump administration a tailwind to begin to unilaterally implement parts of the economic plan discussed in Bahrain.
In seeking to thwart the Bahrain conference Abbas did not overly exert himself; he seemed to understand that the game was over and that he could not stop it from convening.
The P.A. has not come up with a national plan to counteract U.S. President Donald Trump’s so-called “deal of the century” and is mainly engaging in condemnations and threats.
One of the problems preventing serious Palestinian opposition to the deal is that Abbas is neither willing nor able to achieve national unity and reconcile with Hamas, even temporarily, in an effort to undermine the deal.
On June 26 in Gaza City, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh convened all the Palestinian factions to protest the economic conference in Bahrain. In his speech, Haniyeh called on Abbas to meet with him in Gaza or in Cairo to coordinate actions against the new American peace plan, but his call went unanswered.
The P.A. was unable to pressure Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan to stay away from the Manama workshop and failed to organize an effective Arab-Islamic rejectionist camp against it.
Moreover, while the delegation of Palestinian businessmen headed by Sheik Ashraf Jabari of Hebron went to the Bahrain conference in defiance of the P.A. boycott, only one of them was briefly arrested and interrogated. Even though most of them live in P.A. territory, the P.A. only made threats against them, while taking no practical measure to prevent them from going even though the P.A. said that doing so was “national treason.”
Senior Fatah officials claim that Abbas feared to clash with Arab states that sent representatives to Bahrain. The P.A.’s severe financial crisis, precipitated by the cutoff of American aid and the P.A.’s refusal to accept tax revenues from Israel, is having its effect. Abbas is pinning his hopes on the Arab League fulfilling its promise to provide him with an economic safety net for a few months that will enable him to recover and prevent the P.A.’s collapse.
The officials say Abbas is trying to stall for time to concentrate on a political effort against the U.S. peace plan in November, after the Israeli elections and close to the date when the political part of the plan is to be published.
Until then, Abbas will mount a diplomatic campaign to organize an international conference that will include representatives of Russia, China and the European Union, which oppose the plan.
The P.A.’s feebleness in the war against the new American peace plan reflects Abbas’s weakened status among his people. Whereas on the one hand he has been unable to score political achievements, Israel, on the other, has been racking up achievements in the international arena and enhancing its status. There is also great public revulsion in the P.A. at the venality of the government and the corruption of the top leadership.
Senior Fatah officials say that the corruption issue still dominates the discourse on the Palestinian street and the social networks. Abbas has not been able to change the civic agenda for the Palestinian public in the West Bank, and if he does not take visible measures against the corruption, an explosion is only a matter of time.
The P.A. chief is ignoring the warnings of the chiefs of his security mechanisms while counting on time to work in his favor. But the frustrated Palestinians may take to the streets and demonstrate en masse against a phenomenon of which Abbas and his two wealthy sons have become a symbol.
Amid the criticism on the Palestinian street, Abbas ordered his security mechanisms to take action against the Palestinian business delegation that attended the economic conference in Bahrain.
Over the weekend, the members of the delegation returned to their homes in the West Bank. In the early morning hours of June 27, the P.A.’s General Intelligence organization raided the Hebron home of businessman Salah Abu Mayala, arrested him, and confiscated documents. After American pressure, Mayala was released.
General Intelligence forces then besieged the home of another businessman, Ashraf Ranam, for three hours but did not manage to arrest him. The General Intelligence forces had to retreat when IDF forces intervened.
Sheikh Ashraf Jabari, head of the Palestinian delegation to Bahrain, also lives in Hebron. Because his home is near the Cave of the Patriarchs, in the area under IDF control, the P.A. did not try to arrest him since doing so would be a violation of the Hebron Agreement.
Palestinian businessman Mahmoud Masad of Jenin said that he received a warning from the Shabak (Israel Security Agency) that General Intelligence had tried to hire the services of an Israeli criminal from Haifa to assassinate him.
Masad canceled his trip to Bahrain and did not go with the other delegation members because of disagreements between them. Nevertheless, the P.A. declared him a collaborator with Israel and a traitor.
Among members of the Palestinian delegation who did go to Bahrain, there is great anger at the United States.
A delegation member said that the Americans had assured the delegation of protection against P.A. harassment and attempts to harm them, and that they expected the United States to live up to its promise.
Fatah officials declared that all the Palestinian businessmen who went to Bahrain despite the P.A.’s boycott of the conference are traitors and will be tried and punished.
Criticism in the Palestinian street is leveled against the impotence of Abbas, who was unable to prevent either the Arab states from participating in the conference or the Palestinian delegation from attending. “We should have arrested them before the trip and not after it,” said a senior Fatah official.
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.