Abbas prioritizes American ties over Palestinian unity
No one seemed as excited about the election of Joe Biden as the next president of the US as Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas. When all hope seemed lost and Abbas found himself desperate for political validation and funding, Biden arrived like a conquering knight on a white horse and swept the Palestinian leader away to safety.
Abbas was one of the first world leaders to congratulate the Democratic president-elect on his victory. While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delayed his congratulatory statement in the hope that Donald Trump would be able to reverse the result, Abbas suffered no such illusions. Considering the humiliation that the PA experienced at the hands of the Trump administration, Abbas had nothing to lose. For him, Biden, despite his long love affair with Israel, still represents a ray of hope.
But can the wheel of history be turned back? Despite the fact that the Biden camp has made it clear he will not be reversing any of the pro-Israel steps taken by the departing Trump administration, Abbas remains confident that the “peace process,” at the very least, can be restored. This may seem to be an impossible dichotomy, for how can a so-called peace process deliver peace if all the components of a just settlement have already been eradicated?
It is obvious that there can be no real peace if the US government insists on recognizing all of Jerusalem as Israel’s “eternal” capital. There can be no peace if the US continues to fund illegal settlements, bankroll Israeli apartheid, deny the rights of Palestinian refugees, turn a blind eye to the de facto annexation under way in the Occupied Territories, and recognize the illegally occupied Syrian Golan Heights as part of Israel — all of which is likely to remain the same under the Biden administration. The peace process is unlikely to deliver any kind of just, sustainable peace in the near future considering it has failed to do so for the past 30 years.
Despite the ample lessons of the past, Abbas has decided to again gamble with the fate of his people and jeopardize their struggle for freedom and a just peace. Not only is Abbas building a campaign involving Arab countries, namely Jordan and Egypt, to revive the peace process, he is also walking back on all his promises and decisions to cancel the Oslo Accords and end the PA’s “security coordination” with Israel. In so doing, Abbas has betrayed the national unity talks between his party, Fatah, and Hamas.
The talks between the rival Palestinian groups seemed to take a serious turn in July, when Palestine’s main political parties issued a joint statement declaring their intent to defeat Trump’s proposal for peace. The language used in that statement was reminiscent of the revolutionary discourse used by these groups during the First and Second Intifadas — a message that Fatah was finally reorienting itself around national priorities and away from the “moderate” political discourse of the US-sponsored peace process.
Even those who grew tired and cynical about the shenanigans of Abbas and Palestinian groups wondered if this time would be different; that Palestinians would finally agree on a set of principles through which they could express and channel their struggle for freedom.
Oddly, Trump’s four-year term in the White House was the best thing that happened to the Palestinian national struggle. His administration was a jarring and indisputable reminder that the US is not — and has never been — an honest peace broker and that Palestinians cannot tailor their political agenda to satisfy US-Israeli demands in order for them to obtain political validation and financial support.
By cutting off US funding to the PA in August 2018, followed by the shutting down of the Palestinian mission in Washington, Trump liberated Palestinians from the throes of an impossible political equation. Without the proverbial American carrot, the Palestinian leadership had the rare opportunity to rearrange its house for the benefit of the Palestinian people. Alas, such efforts were short-lived. After multiple meetings and video conferences between Fatah, Hamas and other delegations representing Palestinian groups, Abbas last month declared the resumption of the security coordination between his PA and Israel. This was followed by an Israeli announcement on Dec. 2 that it would release more than $1 billion of Palestinian funds that it had unlawfully withheld as a form of political pressure.
This takes Palestinian unity back to square one. Abbas now finds unity talks with his Palestinian rivals quite useless. Since Fatah dominates the PA, the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestine National Council, conceding any ground or sharing leadership with any other factions seems self-defeating. With Abbas reassured that the Biden administration will be the latest to bestow on him the title of “peace partner,” he no longer finds it necessary to seek approval from the Palestinians. Since there can be no middle ground between catering to a US-Israeli agenda and elevating a Palestinian national agenda, the Palestinian leader, without hesitation, ditched the latter.
Despite the ample lessons of the past, Abbas has decided to again gamble with the fate of his people.
While it is true that Biden will neither satisfy any of the Palestinian people’s demands nor reverse any of his predecessor’s missteps, Abbas can still benefit from what he sees as a seismic shift in US foreign policy. This is not in favor of the Palestinian cause but of Abbas personally — an unelected leader whose biggest accomplishment has been sustaining the US-imposed status quo and keeping the Palestinian people pacified.
Although the so-called peace process has been declared dead on multiple occasions, Abbas is now desperately trying to revive it; not because he — or any rational Palestinian — believes that peace is at hand, but because of the existential relationship between the PA and this US-sponsored political scheme. While most Palestinians have gained nothing from all of this, a few Palestinians have accumulated massive wealth, power and prestige. For this clique, that alone is a cause worth fighting for.
- Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the Editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of five books. His latest is “These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons” (Clarity Press, Atlanta). Twitter: @RamzyBaroud