Only Palestinian unity can thwart US-Israeli onslaught
Today, President Mahmoud Abbas is attempting to find a way out of one of the most challenging and intricate tests he has faced since coming to power. The US’ unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last December has brought the entire house of cards — Oslo and the deadlocked peace process — tumbling down on everyone’s heads. The outcome is especially harsh for the Palestinians. Jerusalem was now off the table, as President Donald Trump later tweeted, and the classical two-state solution is to become a mere footnote in the annals of the decades-old Palestinian struggle for independence and liberation.
Trump’s proclamation has effectively uprooted the goalposts, rather than moved them. The game has changed and those who were always suspicious of Israeli intentions while pointing to a US tilt in favor of Israel are now relieved. Under previous US administrations, a fictitious peace process had kept the Palestinians engaged in a futile exercise while Israel bulldozed its way in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, expropriating Palestinian lands and building thousands of illegal settlements. Furthermore, it had turned the Palestinian Authority into a client administrator in the Occupied Territories, thus maintaining a cost-free occupation. In Abbas’s own words “we have become an authority without any authority.”
The PCC is a forum for all factions working under the umbrella of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The Palestinians have the democratic setups to discuss and adopt tough and meaningful decisions, but the reality is that, since the birth of the PA, the PLO and its institutions have become marginalized and in many ways irrelevant. Moreover, the Palestinians themselves are divided and, in the absence of a genuine national reconciliation platform, the PCC’s recommendations will lack the necessary tools — and the political will — to be carried out.
Even then, and as was evident in Abbas’s long-winded, reminiscing and moralizing speech, Palestinian choices are difficult and divisive. The PCC will reject the US as a sole mediator in future peace talks, will turn down Trump’s peace plan, will seek a new international framework for the resumption of peace negotiations and will consider ways to recognize Palestine as a state under occupation. It will call — again — for the suspension of security coordination with Israel and will declare that Israel had abandoned the Oslo agreement. It may even withdraw recognition of Israel: But then what?
With waning Arab support and considering that the US and Israel will seek to weaken the PA financially, Abbas is really on his own. Yes he can go to the UN Security Council to seek full membership, only to fail, and will probably file legal suits against Israeli figures at the International Criminal Court (ICC), accusing them of carrying out atrocities against the Palestinians. The law is on his side but the geopolitical realities are working against him.
The law is on Abbas’s side but geopolitical realities are working against him, so he must end the rifts and revive and restructure the PLO as the only institution that represents Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and beyond.
Osama Al Sharif
But dissolving the PA and declaring the West Bank as occupied territory — thus shutting Oslo down — will be the hardest thing for him to do. He will have the support of the international community, albeit symbolic, but at the end of the day he must face the repercussions of his own actions; he talked about not repeating the mistakes of the past.
No one really knows what the Trump administration is about to dole out in the form of an “ultimate deal.” Abbas mentioned that he was offered Abu Dis in place of East Jerusalem as capital. The threat to defund UNRWA can only be seen as a move to close the chapter on the right of return for millions of Palestinian refugees. Israel made it clear that it will not withdraw from the Jordan Valley. Whatever is being planned by the White House, it will surely be the worst deal ever presented to the Palestinians. Can such a deal be forced on them? What can Abbas do to avoid a fait accompli ending the Palestinian struggle?
There are no easy answers and the PCC will hardly provide a clear roadmap for the future. But there are things that Abbas can now do and should: He must end Palestinian rifts and achieve reconciliation. He should prepare the way to hold fresh presidential and legislative elections and he must revive and restructure the PLO as the only institution that represents the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and beyond.
Palestinian unity stands as the only remaining barrier against further Israeli incursions and US diktats. The message should be one of defiance; that it is not up to Abbas or a possible successor to sign on a final and unjust settlement. The Palestinian struggle for liberation — making the cost of occupation unbearable — will resume once the leadership unshackles itself.
• Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.
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