Trump’s Jerusalem move puts Abbas in tough spot
London- Despite a symbolic UN General Assembly vote declaring US President Donald Trump’s announcement recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel “null and void,” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas remains in a tough spot. Many question his credibility at a time when there is little prospect to restart peace talks and the Palestinian leader seems to have few alternatives.
The General Assembly voted 128-9 in passing a non-binding resolution rejecting Trump’s decree, despite the American president’s threat that Washington could cut off aid to countries that voted for the censure.
The General Assembly vote came after the United States vetoed a UN Security Council resolution rejecting Washington’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and relocate its embassy there.
It was that move that ensured that the United States, viewed as siding with Israel, is no longer seen as a viable mediator for peace by the Palestinians.
The United States is “no longer an honest mediator in the peace process,” Abbas told a press conference in Paris, on December 22.
“We will not accept any plan from the United States of America because of its bias and violation of the international law,” he added.
Abbas had derived political legitimacy from the peace process, positioning himself as the only leader capable of delivering statehood. However, more than two decades since the Oslo process was launched, he does not have much to show.
The crisis over Jerusalem may push Abbas, the most steadfast Palestinian champion of seeking statehood through negotiations, to a point he has avoided for so long — acknowledgement that the peace process isn’t working.
Those close to Abbas reportedly agreed it was time to look for alternatives.
Any talks with US officials are “superfluous and irrelevant,” Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestine Liberation Organisation official told the Associated Press. “The peace process is finished.”
Abbas warned in the past that failure to achieve a two-state solution could prompt Palestinians to pursue a single state for two peoples, a prospect most Israelis reject. The Palestinians could also press prosecutors at the International Criminal Court to charge Israeli leaders with war crimes, including over settlement building, observers said. Abbas has refrained from such a step, under apparent US pressure, and for fear of provoking an Israeli backlash.
Abbas has explicitly stated that he will seek to secure full state membership for the Palestinians at the United Nations but that tactic faces major hurdles without US consent. With its veto at the Security Council and threats to cut off aid to anyone who voted for the resolution at the general assembly, Washington has demonstrated that it is prepared to play diplomatic hardball.
“We will go once again and many times to get full membership. We are a state and an authority and we have borders and we have the right to get the world’s recognition of us,” Abbas was quoted as saying by the official Palestinian news agency Wafa.
Locally, where the public was enraged by Trump’s announcement, Abbas is likely to fear being upstaged by Hamas, which called for another Palestinian uprising. Regionally, Abbas may fear being overshadowed by Iran or Turkey even if he knows their pro-Palestinian posturing is essentially self-serving.
Abbas had met with leaders in Saudi Arabia to obtain assurances of support and assistance with Washington. Riyadh reiterated its backing for the right of Palestinians to an independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital.
A Palestinian opinion poll indicated overwhelming opposition to the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Such sentiments appear to be shared across the Arab and Muslim worlds, where many took to the streets to protest Trump’s decision, which was rejected by much of the international community.
Even if there is no way forward in the peace process for Abbas with the United States as a mediator, he may look to the United Nations for a solution. However, Abbas is aware that UN expressions of support have declarative value only.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the Jerusalem issue must be resolved through direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians and warned that “unilateral measures” could jeopardise prospects for peace.
The Palestinians are increasingly looking to Europe for help, encouraged by harsh criticism of Trump’s Jerusalem policy by European leaders. European countries had been relegated by Washington to the role of paymaster, sending hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to support the Palestinian self-rule government and help manage the long-running conflict.
European countries often take a more critical view of Israeli policies, especially on settlements, than the United States but have not challenged Washington’s monopoly as mediator.
Despite improving Russian-Israeli ties over Syria, it is unlikely Tel Aviv would accept Moscow as a replacement for Washington as a mediator with the Palestinians because Israel cannot rely on Russian backing being as reliable as the strong support from the United States.
Russian President Vladimir Putin criticised the Trump administration on the Jerusalem issue, saying the move “doesn’t help the Mideast settlement and, just the opposite, destabilises the already difficult situation in the region.”
Abbas faces two problems: By shunning the United States, he would find himself in uncharted territory and would fail to find an alternative mediator that Israel is willing to accept. Worse, he may not find an alternative in which he can play a credible role.