Bahbah: Abbas' Wait-and-See Strategy is Catastrophic
By: Bishara Bahbah/Arab America Featured Columnist
President Abbas, when will you lead? Stop being led by both the US and Israel and stop accepting the status quo. You must move on, choose a different strategy, and do so promptly.
Initially, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas pinned high hopes on President Donald Trump’s promise of delivering on the “deal of the century” which the Palestinians thought was going to end the clutches of Israel’s endless occupation.
Abbas had four meetings with Trump in which the latter appeared to have agreed verbally to a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders, despite Jared Kushner’s objections at the time, according to one of Abbas’ advisors who was present in all four meetings.
It has then become clear that Mr. Trump, the self-anointed “King of Israel,” is willing to deliver possibly on an economic relief plan for the Palestinians but not on their political aspirations for a viable independent state in the territories that were occupied by Israel in 1967 with Jerusalem as its capital.
This was made painfully clear in the Bahrain “Peace for Prosperity” economic workshop. Whatever plan that has been devised as part of the “Deal of the Century” was concocted by Trump’s team headed by Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt, and the US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, in total collusion with Benjamin Netanyahu. Under the best of all scenarios, the Palestinians will get some economic relief but will not achieve their goal of an independent state within the 1967 borders nor will they get Jerusalem as its capital.
Given what we know so far, what has Abbas’ strategy been? Sadly, the strategy has been to “wait-and-see.”
Given Trump’s antagonistic actions toward the Palestinians prior to the Bahrain economic conference, what has the wait-and-see strategy achieved?
Trump cut off all aid to UNRWA and the Palestinian Authority; he closed down the PLO office in Washington DC, and he even cut off aid to the Palestinian security forces which are damaging to Israel’s interests in the West Bank and Gaza. Finally, within the past two weeks, the State Department has removed the term “Palestinian Territories” from a web page listing countries and areas covered by one of its bureaus.
Israel, in the meantime, kept confiscating Palestinian lands, withheld part of the taxes that were due to the PA, and continued expanding the settlements. The more the Palestinians wait-and-see, the worse off the Palestinians become.
Abbas has options. Admittedly, none of them come without a cost.
Option I: Wait-and-See or Do Nothing
- This is the worst of all options. Abbas is allowing Israel and the United States to dictate the fate of the Palestinians. Whatever the political component of Trump’s deal might be, it will not satisfy Palestinian political
- So, why do nothing and wait for the inevitable rejection of the plan? Why waste precious time – waiting for the outcome of Israel’s elections and then waiting for Trump to release his plan – and allow Israel to confiscate more Palestinian lands and build more settlements in the meantime?
Option II: Create a National Unity Government
- Abbas would have to swallow his pride, set aside his factional agenda, and call for national reconciliation with all Palestinian groups, including Hamas, Mohamad Dahlan, and others.
- Once reconciliation is achieved, hold elections for the presidency and a new legislative council, Abbas can insist that any president would have to be from Fatah with certain presidential veto powers while the legislative council’s membership is determined based on open and free elections.
- This is a scenario that will not please either Israel nor the United States but could find favor with the Palestinians and could strengthen the hand of the Palestinians in any future negotiations with Israel.
- At least, Israel would learn that the PA is not powerless and is not willing to be at Israel’s mercy.
- The National Unity Government will govern Gaza and the West Bank and will control Gaza’s borders with both Israel and Egypt. The Islamic rule of Hamas will have to end, and Gaza becomes free of Muslim Brotherhood stronghold. This could be viewed favorably by many Arab countries including Egypt – Gaza’s only outlet to the world. It could also diminish Israel’s fear of Iran’s influence in the Gaza Strip and, potentially, its the military threat to Israel.
Option III: Dissolve the Palestinian Authority
This is Abbas’ nuclear option. Gather the leadership of the PA and the PLO and go into exile.
- Let Israel deal with the mess of controlling the West Bank as an occupied territory minus the Oslo Accords. And, what a mess will it be for the Israelis from a security perspective and from day-to-day management!
- Israel will have to spend precious resources collecting garbage, providing for healthcare and education, issuing drivers’ licenses, travel and work permits, and collecting taxes.
- Israel will also have to deal with 70,000 unemployed Palestinian security personnel who are armed. Of course, Israel might try to re-hire them as a newly formed local security force but, good luck with that!
- The security threat to Israel from the West Bank will increase immeasurably given the absence of the cooperation of the existing Palestinian security forces. Israel will have to redeploy troops and intelligence agents throughout the West Bank to ensure that it is protected against potential attacks. Israelis as a whole will relive the days of fear and insecurity that they experienced prior to their security arrangements with the PA.
- The dissolution of the PA will create monumental diplomatic and political headaches for the Israelis. Most countries of the world would blame Israel because of its obstinance and its lack of willingness to negotiate in good faith over the establishment of a Palestinian state following the signing of the Oslo Accords.
In short, Abbas is not without options. To wait-and-see and be at both Israel’s and the United States’ mercy is a grave mistake. Abbas needs to muster the courage to lead the Palestinian people into new uncharted territory and get out of his comfort zone. That is what leaders do.
Prof. Bishara Bahbah was the editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem based “Al-Fajr” newspaper between 1983-84. He was a member of the Palestinian delegation to the Peace Talks on Arms Control and Regional Security. He taught at Harvard and was the associate director of its Kennedy School’s Institute for Social and Economic Policy in the Middle East.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Arab America.