P.A. chairman Mahmoud Abbas was outraged by the Feb. 12, 2023, decision of Israel’s Security Cabinet to recognize nine unauthorized outposts in Judea and Samaria. He issued a statement that the decision is a challenge to American and Arab efforts and a provocation to the Palestinian people that will lead to further tensions and escalation.
Abbas continued the extreme line against Israel in a speech at the Jerusalem Conference on Feb. 12, 2023, in Cairo, where he claimed that the Western Wall is an Islamic waqf, or inalienable Muslim religious endowment, and part of the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
“Just as our people rejected the Balfour Declaration and its results, we also rejected all attempts to liquidate our cause or falsify the facts about it. We rejected the ‘deal of the century,’ and we refused—and we still refuse—to accept the move of the U.S. embassy or any other embassy to Jerusalem,” he said.
The Biden administration has failed miserably in its efforts to calm the tensions in eastern Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria. The U.S. president recently sent three high-ranking envoys to the Middle East to prevent a security escalation, but they returned empty-handed.
In recent weeks, he sent one after another National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, CIA Chief William Burns and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
All three met with both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Abbas, but returned to Washington without any real results.
Netanyahu agreed to the American ideas for calming the West Bank. He promised to restrain ministers Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich and to avoid unilateral measures that could increase tensions before the month of Ramadan. But the one who torpedoed the Americans’ plans was Abbas, who tried to blackmail them and secure a political achievement, such as the opening of the American consulate in eastern Jerusalem or the reopening of the PLO office in Washington. When Abbas realized the administration was not interested in these moves now, he simply rejected the American plan to return security control to the P.A. to fight against the armed groups in the West Bank.
The security plan was prepared by American General Mike Fenzel, who coordinates between the U.S. administration and the P.A. security forces.
He followed in the footsteps of General Keith Dayton, who served in the years 2005-2010 as a coordinator between the administration and the P.A., and trained the P.A.’s security forces following the Second Intifada.
General Fenzel planned to establish a special force of several thousand P.A. security personnel who would undergo training in Jordan, return to the West Bank, and be stationed in the Nablus and Jenin areas to fight against the armed terrorist groups and allow the P.A. to regain security control in the region.
His plan won the support of the head of the CIA, William Burns, the support of Egypt and Jordan and the agreement of the Israeli security establishment.
Senior administration officials asked Abbas to meet the P.A.’s security obligations as per the Oslo Accords and agree to a plan for the P.A. to fight terrorism on its own, so that the IDF would refrain from entry into Area A of the West Bank. But Abbas rejected the American plan and blamed Israel for the terrorism.
Abbas tried to convince the senior American officials that his way was better and that he would succeed in luring the wanted terrorists with promises of amnesty, salaries and vehicles in exchange for them laying down their weapons.
Abbas’s containment plan is destined for failure. He tried to implement it without success in recent months, but the members of the armed groups in Jenin and Nablus rejected it outright.
Abbas’s working assumption is that the Biden administration is weak and preoccupied with its confrontation with Russia over the war in Ukraine, and with the economic conflict with China. Biden, according to this assumption, does not want a U.S. confrontation with the P.A. Therefore, Abbas allowed himself to ignore Biden’s request. After all, Biden has not invited him to the White House for a visit. Nor is the White House ready to get its hands dirty and offer the Palestinians a political horizon.
In conversations with his associates, Abbas says that the American administration cannot be trusted because it is biased in Israel’s favor.
The refusal of the P.A. chairman is a blow to the Biden administration. Terrorist activity in the West Bank and Jerusalem is expected to increase toward the month of Ramadan (March 22 to April 20) and force Israel to defend itself, which could result in Palestinian casualties and regional instability.
President Biden is wrong in refusing to apply pressure on Abbas, as President George Bush did on Yasser Arafat. Abbas did not hesitate even for a moment to thwart the American security plan, knowing that the continuation of the existing situation may encourage terrorism and cause more victims on both sides.
Abbas’s reluctance to have the P.A. fight terrorism emphasizes the fact that his role as a possible peace partner expired long ago. Only one thing now interests him: to survive in his position without confronting any factor that could endanger his throne.
President Biden will find this out the hard way.
Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israeli radio and television, is a senior Middle East analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He served as Director General and Chief Editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.
Originally published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.