Abbas’s leadership tested
Ever the bureaucrat, the Palestinian leader has often been accused of lacking charisma, leaving him increasingly unpopular on the Palestinian street, as he enters the 13th year of what was meant to be a four-year term. With little leverage to influence the regional players, Abbas spoke to his own people, trying to shore up his flagging support.
“In the broader Arab world, his nominal allies are not picking up for him as much as he would have liked or would have hoped,” said Grant Rumley, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and author of “The Last Palestinian,” a biography of Abbas. “He’s back to battening down the hatches and trying to wait out the storm.”
“Ultimately, because he doesn’t have any other options and because he doesn’t have the allies in the Arab world to fall back on, I think that with enough pressure, he’ll come back to the table,” Rumley predicted, though such a reversal seems unlikely any time in the near future.
Abbas’s outbursts, punctuated with waving hands and an angry scowl, were more red meat for Netanyahu, who seized on Abbas’s claim that Israel was a European “colonial enterprise” that had nothing to do with Judaism. Abbas practically wrote Netanyahu’s talking points for him, soon to be echoed by Trump and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman.
Concerns about Trump that were only whispered when he first took office are now the regular focus of PLO messages. The relationship between Trump and Abbas now resembles the relationship between Obama and Netanyahu. The two leaders paid each other respect as long as they had to, despite frequent murmurs of discontent. But once there was no need to feign civility any longer, Netanyahu slammed Obama in much the same way Abbas is going after Trump.
Israeli-Palestinian problems unaddressed
A sudden surge in overt American political and diplomatic support for Israel has not solved the country’s bigger problems. If anything, it has only delayed them being tackled.
Netanyahu emphasizes Israel’s need to maintain security control of the entire West Bank in any final status agreement, but he has yet to put forward a clear solution of what to do with the two million Palestinians who live there. Or the two million more in Gaza, which is under an Israeli blockade.
Israel’s right-wing government, empowered by Trump, has increased calls for the annexation of all or parts of the West Bank, while Netanyahu refuses to reaffirm his earlier commitment to a two-state solution. Within 10 days of Trump’s inauguration, Israel approved 6,000 new housing units in the West Bank, as well as the first entirely new settlement in two decades. Additional approvals slowed temporarily, but have recently picked up again.
Such moves amplify the criticism from some quarters that Israel is starting to resemble an apartheid state, exacerbated by the lack of a clear vision from the Israeli government on how to treat Palestinians equitably.
Those concerns seem far off to Israel’s government now, if they’re a concern at all. Elections aren’t scheduled until late-2019 — an eternity in domestic politics. Netanyahu treats Trump with a mixture of flattery and devotion. Trump himself handles Israel as the beloved child.
The governments of the United States and Israel have found each other, even if they’ve lost so many others along the way.