Abbas seeks to limit damage with about-turn on peace deals

Palestinian Authority resumes cooperation with Israel, sends back envoys to UAE, Babrain.
Friday 20/11/2020
A file picture of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the PA’s headquarters, in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. AFP
A file picture of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the PA’s headquarters, in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. (AFP)

RAMALLAH--Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas suddenly changed his hard-line stances towards the recent peace deals in the region. Even if no change occurred in the positions of Israel or those of the UAE, Abbas returned to the path of direct meetings with Israel, and decided to send back the Palestinian ambassadors to their posts in Abu Dhabi and Manama.

Analysts said that Abbas appeared to correct course after he failed to bring attention to his stance against the rapid developments in the normalisation process. The Palestinian President was also unable to bring himself to bear the responsibility of the decision to stop security and civilian coordination with Israel and not receive the funds from Palestinian tax revenues, which constitute about two-thirds of the Palestinian Authority’s budget and their absence causing a huge deficit.

A Palestinian political commentator said that Abbas does not care about what befalls the Palestinians as much as he does about ensuring continued attention to himself outside the burning of flags, banners and posters.

A Palestinian official said that the Palestinians are about to return their two ambassadors to their posts in the UAE and Bahrain after they had summoned them home in protest against the two Arab Gulf countries’ US-sponsored peace agreements with Israel. However, the same official pointed out “Ambassadors Issam Masalha (the Palestinian envoy to the Emirates) and Khaled Aref (the Palestinian envoy to Bahrain) have not yet returned to their posts.”

On Thursday, the Palestinian Authority held its first meeting with Israel after the resumption of cooperation at the initiative of the Palestinians.

On May 19, Abbas had announced that the Palestinian Authority had become “free of all of its agreements and understandings with the American and Israeli governments,” including security coordination agreements, considering that Israel’s annexation of lands in the West Bank undermines the chances of achieving peace.

Palestinian Civilian Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh said that “in light of the contacts made by President Abbas regarding Israel’s commitment to the agreements signed with us, and based on the official written and oral messages we have received confirming Israel’s commitment to that, therefore, the course of the relationship with Israel will be restored to the way it was.”

The minister’s statements were meant to justify the sudden about-turn by President Abbas, who in recent weeks found it more expedient to ride the wave of slander against the UAE and Bahrain, orchestrated by the Muslim Brotherhood from Turkey and Qatar.

Now, according to analysts, he decided to retreat from that path after finding out that the Turkish-Qatari promises are not implementable, and that coordination with Hamas and resorting to the old fiery rhetoric failed to attract the region’s attention and much less that of the world. So, he had to go back to square one.

Observers believe that returning to coordination with Israel was widely expected. The Palestinian Authority has a suffocating crisis on its hands, and it can’t go far in the escalation game because it would be its first victim.

Last September, Israel decided to deduct $ 11.3 million from tax revenues as a punitive measure for the Palestinian Authority’s setting aside funds to aid the families of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and of martyrs.

The Palestinian President sought to take advantage of Donald Trump loss of the US presidential election to pretext that his return is linked to the potential change in the American plans and the demise of the US President’s projects, especially with regard to the status of Jerusalem and the “deal of the century”. He is also betting that president-elect Joe Biden can wind back those initiatives to square one.

But observers point out that the Palestinian president’s bet on Biden is likely to be misplaced. The new peace projects, Palestinian and Arab, will not be affected by Trump’s departure and the arrival of Biden at the White House, as is the case with regard to the Palestinians’ need for a leadership that adjusts to these developments and finds advantages in them.