(April 24, 2019 / JNS) In a meeting with U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) in Ramallah on Tuesday, newly appointed Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh blamed the Trump administration for “punishing” and “blackmailing” the Palestinians. He emphasized its recent cutting of U.S. aid to the Palestinians, recognition of the Golan Heights as Israeli territory and the U.S. embassy move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem last spring as reasons for Palestinian fury. He may also have been referring to the much-anticipated Mideast peace plan expected to be revealed in June, after the month-long Muslim holiday of Ramadan.
The Palestinians have already made it clear that they will not accept it, sight unseen.
The narrow Palestinian cabinet, recently cobbled together by P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas, appears ill-equipped to deal with the P.A.’s pressing political, diplomatic and economic troubles. There is major disunity among the Palestinians, Hamas and Fatah, which are nowhere near reconciliation, and the P.A. is losing money fast.
While Shtayyeh is a foreign-trained economist—and many in the international community have high hopes for him—he is also a “promoter of the BDS boycott-Israel movement, is in favor of ending security coordination with the Israel Defense Forces and seeks to end the Paris Protocols that refer to a joint economy with Israel,” said Pinhas Inbari at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
However, Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told JNS that “the appointment of Mohammed Shtayyeh is quite significant.”
He said that the previous prime minister, Rami Hamdallah, was “a very minor player” with “very little clout” within the ruling Fatah Party, and had “few respected skills.” By contrast, Shtayyeh, according to Schanzer, “has the respect of his party and is known as a serious economist.”
With an ever-widening intra-Palestinian rift, Schanzer said this is an effort by Abbas “to consolidate power across the various arms of the Fatah Party and the PLO.” Set up as part of the 1993 Oslo Accords, the Palestinian Authority was originally slated to be the interim government of the Palestinians until a final resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was solidified. However, the P.A. has become beset by corruption, internal Palestinian disputes and increasing authoritarianism under Abbas. The P.A. last held elections in 2006, and has since been exclusively run by Abbas and his Fatah Party in the West Bank after several failures at reconciliation with the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.
According to the Saudi-run Arab News site, Shtayyeh clarified that he would pursue an austerity program since the P.A.’s financial situation is critical and Abbas has appealed to Arab countries to provide him with a safety net. This comes after Israel decided to withhold $138 million in monthly tax revenues that it collects on behalf of the P.A.
In response to Abbas’s appeal, at an Arab League meeting in Cairo on Sunday, Arab foreign ministers committed to paying $100 million per month to the floundering P.A. They also rejected any peace plan that does not follow the Arab Peace Initiative and other international demands.
‘No different from its predecessors’
Schanzer said the new government is part of Abbas’s efforts to prepare for the Trump administration’s upcoming Mideast peace plan, commonly referred to as the “deal of the century.”
So, are the Palestinians trying to repair the damage in relations they caused when they cut off ties with the U.S. administration in December 2017?
“The Palestinians expect to see a bad deal,” said Schanzer. “And they expect to be punished for rejecting it. Abbas is preparing accordingly.”
This, noted Schanzer, could explain why Shtayyeh said in his remarks that “we must separate the Palestinian-American relations from the peace process or the political process that is going on.”
Perhaps Shtayyeh was attempting to step back from the original Palestinian hardline position that saw no relations between the P.A. and the United States when he said, “The stalemate of the peace process must not be met with punishment or blackmail from the American administration of the Palestinian people. We want it to be an honest peace-broker.”
Efraim Inbar, president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, appeared determined to set the record straight and remove any misplaced hope. He told JNS that the new Palestinian government “is no different from its predecessors. They all are beleaguered by corruption, nepotism and ineptitude. A Herculean effort would be needed to overcome the political culture bequeathed by [former Palestinian Authority chairman] Yasser Arafat.”
He added, in a resigned sort of way, that the P.A. “continues to subscribe to maximalist unrealistic positions that ensure the continuation of conflict between the two national movements.”