No deal for Palestinians but what next for the Palestinian cause?

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is expected to arrive in New York on 11 February where he will address the UN Security Council (UNSC) to explain the Palestinian rejection of US President Donald Trump’s offer, made last Tuesday, for a final political settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli struggle.

Abbas is expected to echo the statements he made in Cairo on Saturday as he headed the Palestinian delegation to an emergency Arab League foreign ministers meeting, and the arguments he made in Ramallah on Monday as the foreign ministers of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) were meeting in Saudi Arabia to discuss Trump’s peace plan.

He is likely to insist that the Palestinians will continue to totally reject the Trump offer, characterised in a memo the Palestinian delegation to the UN circulated among member states on 31 January as a cynical political deal made between Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu in total disregard of international law. The memo went on to say the Trump plan was an attempt to legitimise the illegitimate and failed to meet even the minimal requirements for a just solution to the Palestine question.

The memo, of which Al-Ahram Weekly has a copy, added that the Trump plan “totally contradicts the two-state solution which for decades was the bedrock of the global consensus on a just solution… The plan attempts to validate illegal Israeli actions that have not only undermined the two-state solution but rendered it physically impossible to realise.”

“Occupation cannot be a pathway for annexation. Annexation can only lead to an apartheid situation that no one can tolerate. The deep sense of injustice that the US-Israeli plan has triggered among the Palestinian people, who view the matter as an existential threat, only further reinforces their resilience and insistence to realise their full human rights and live in freedom, dignity and equality.”

According to a Palestinian official, beyond an opportunity to state the Palestinian position in black and white Abbas is not sure what he will get out the UN meeting.

Abbas has received verbal support for his stance from both the Arab League and the OIC. The resolutions that the Arab and Islamic organisations adopted on Saturday and Monday were very much in line with draft resolutions the Palestinians presented. They rejected the Trump plan, which Washington has long trailed as the deal of the century, as unfair and insisted there can be no final settlement of the Palestinian cause away from the principle of land-for-peace.

Meanwhile, news broke on Monday that Sudan’s acting head of state Abdel-Fattah Al-Bourhan had met with Netanyahu in Kampala to discuss the normalisation of relations between the two states. While Palestinian officials promptly denounced the meeting between Sudan and Israel neither Al-Bourhan nor the transitional government in Khartoum denied the plans.

Cairo-based European diplomats say it is too late in the day for any Arab or African state to suspend its relations with Israel based on the fate of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. They add that Israel already has relations with Arab Gulf states and the countries of the Horn of Africa and that ties are deepening.

According to an Egyptian diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity, it is also too late for the Palestinians to expect any state to overlook its own political and economic interests.

“Abbas got the resolution he wanted out of the Arab League. We had suggested that he should try to lobby rather than to boycott the US administration while the offer was being drafted but he declined. Where he goes from here is not clear,” the diplomat added.

According to another Egyptian diplomat who was directly involved in the making of the peace process, with the Trump offer announced last week things have become more complicated. Today, he said, it is an open question whether any of the established principles of the Middle East peace process can be saved.

This scepticism is related, in part at least, to expectations Trump will be re-elected towards the end of this year, deepening Washington’s “total bias to the Israeli right”.

And there are other constraints on any attempt to reverse the Trump proposal’s “big departure” from the established peace process, argues the diplomat.

One of these relates to the fact the current US administration did not observe the established tradition of close coordination between Washington and its Arab allies, particularly Cairo, when drafting the peace initiative. As a result no leading Arab capital is willing to take Washington to task over the content of the deal.

“They will try to adopt the approach of let us try to stick to the Arab position on making Arab-Israeli peace but let us try to do this through the offer made by the US president.”

A Washington-based Arab diplomat worries that the announcement of the Trump deal also makes it more difficult to predict what actions Netanyahu might take on the ground.

Israel’s 2 March general election — the third since April 2019 — are less than four weeks away and many observers think the result will be conclusive for neither Netanyahu nor his political rival Benny Gantz.

If Netanyahu acted to annex any territories in an attempt to buck the polls the situation on the ground might escalate in a way that makes the situation completely unpredictable, said the diplomat.

On Tuesday Josep Borrell, the EU high commissioner for foreign policy, warned against any annexation Israel may be planning. Borrell said the Trump plan broke with “internationally agreed parameters” and any Israeli annexation of Palestinian land would be subject to challenge.

The US has been lobbying support for its offer though the response has been muted apart from the implicit nod some Arab capitals have offered privately to the White House. Washington has already asked Netanyahu to put any action on hold in order to accommodate his rival Gantz’s request to hold off until the end of the Israeli election.

Trump’s senior aide and son-in-law Jared Kushner was expected to brief the UNSC on the deal today.

In interviews given since the peace offer was made public last Tuesday Kushner has argued that the deal is the best and only workable way to reach a settlement for the Palestinian cause and that if the Palestinians insist on rejecting it then they will get nothing.

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