The New Arab Logo

Breaking News
Israeli belligerence casts shadow over Abbas visit to US Open in fullscreen

Daoud Kuttab

Israeli belligerence casts shadow over Abbas visit to US

Palestinian Presdient Abbas is due to visit Washington on May 3 [Anadolu]

Date of publication: 25 April, 2017

Share this page:
  • 0

  • twitter
Analysis: The Palestinian president's Washington visit comes as the Israeli government continues its aggressive tone. He is expected to focus on security, negotiations and aid, writes Daoud Kuttab.
The Palestinian president's long-awaited visit to the White House planned for May 3 is certain to focus on three areas: Negotiations, security and financial aid. This conclusion comes from the job descriptions of three Palestinians officials who were sent to Washington in advance of the summit.

The Palestinian president dispatched to the US his top negotiator Saeb Erekat, the head of the Palestinian intelligence service, Majed Faraj and the deputy finance minister Muhammad Musatafa who is also director of the Palestinian investment fund.

While all three focus areas have their importance, none of them loom larger than the stalled direct negotiations that blew up in April 2014 during the Obama-Kerry administrations.

At that time Israel had agreed on a suspension on settlements and the release of elderly Palestinian prisoners from the Fatah movement who had been in jail before the signing of the 1993 Memorandum of Understanding between Israel and the PLO.

US secretary of state John Kerry at the time said that when Israel reneged on its pledge to suspend settlements and refused to release the last batch of elderly Palestinian prisoners, the talks went "poof".

Since then, Mahmud Abbas refused to return to direct talks without Israeli commitment to those conditions. Frustrated Palestinian officials have also said that they were hoping a time frame for ending the occupation would be decided on, so as not to allow the powerful Israelis who are in military control of Palestinian areas to drag the talks for years.

President Abbas who had been rejecting talks without conditions has recently softened his position and has agreed to talks with Israel under US auspices

Until recently, Israel's prime minister has been taunting Palestinians to return to the talks without any conditions but to no avail. President Abbas who had been rejecting talks without conditions has recently softened his position and has agreed to talks with Israel under US auspices. Israel's prime minister has suddenly stopped calling for talks any place and any time and instead began recently to make silly conditions such as the need for the Palestinians to prove they want peace by stopping to provide financial aid to convicted Palestinians in Israeli jails.

Ironically, Netanayahu himself tried in 2014 and failed to stop the Israeli national social security agency from refraining from providing aid to Palestinians who are citizens of Israel or residents of Jerusalem.

Despite his earlier calls for talks without conditions, Netanayahu had announced during a speech in Bar Ilan University in October 2013 that he would accept the creation of a Palestinian state on condition that the latter is demilitarized and recognizes Israel as a Jewish state. Recently Netanyahu added another condition namely that Israel will permanently control the Jordan Valley suggesting that the most Palestinians can expect from his administration is a partial Palestinian state that will never be a fully sovereign state.

  Read more: Palestine considers legal action after Britain refuses Balfour apology

The Trump administration appears to have made headway in creating some of the necessary conditions for a return to direct talks including an understanding with the Netanyahu government to restrict settlement expansion in Jerusalem and to certain blocks near the 1967 border which Israel hopes to be part of a land swap with Palestinians.

Recently the Israeli government announced that it will build  a new settlement to fulfill a promise Netanyahu made to settlers from the Amona settlement which the Israeli high court demanded must be dismantled as it was built on illegally acquired Palestinian private land.

Abbas has publicly called for direct talks under US auspices with the hope that his team could secure a number of understandings that can establish the basis of talks including a time frame for talks, and accepted international resolutions as the reference point for any talks.

While the issue of moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has not been resolved, Palestinians are preparing a strong defence of their argument that any move at present would blow up the talks as it would preempt the results of negotiations in which occupied Jerusalem is a crucial element in.

The 1995 Jerusalem act stipulated that the US embassy must be moved unless the president signs a waiver every six months

The Israeli press have reported that the new US ambassador to Israel is looking for a home in West Jerusalem. The ambassador living in Jerusalem with the embassy located in Tel Aviv appears to be the US compromise to the issue but a formal waiver to the US law needs to be signed by Trump by June.

The 1995 Jerusalem act stipulated that the US embassy must be moved unless the president signs a waiver every six months. President Obama signed a waiver December 1 2016, thus Trump would have to sign a waiver May 1; two days before Abbas arrives at the White House.

Successive US governments have always pledged to support Israeli security and while the Obama Administration signed a $38 billion ten year military aid agreement, a key part of Israeli security is the coordination with the Palestinian security forces. Majed Farraj the top security official who became the first Palestinian official to visit the Trump administration after inauguration will most certainly meet with CIA and defence officials to further cement the security coordination.

While Trump has vowed to cut foreign aid, Israeli media has reported that the White House is mulling over the possibility of increasing support to Palestinians

This mission is being made complicated because of the current hunger strike initiated by the top prisoner who belongs to the ruling Fatah movement. 1,500 prisoners declared a hunger strike 17 April. Amnesty International has supported the humanitarian demands of the Palestinian prisoners calling Israeli policy "cruel and unlawful".

But the right-wing Israeli government has totally rejected making any improvements to the prisoner’s conditions and as result the prisons as well as Palestinians in the occupied are in a perpetual protest mode. The West Bank could boil over if any of the prisoners dies as a result of this mass hunger strike.

What makes the job of the Palestinian security official more complicated is the economic situation which has deteriorated in recent years due to the retraction in international financial aid to the Palestinian government and people.

While Trump has vowed to cut foreign aid, Israeli media has reported that the White House is mulling over the possibility of increasing support to Palestinians as a way to ensure its own leverage as it tries to convince Palestinians to return to peace talks.

The Palestinian government's financial dire straits becmae clear in recent weeks as the Ramallah administration has cut off  30 percent of the salaries given to Gaza employees who were asked to stay home back in 2016 when the Islamic Hamas movement took over control over the Gaza Strip.

It is hoped that the US-Palestinian summit will include a road map of sorts that can identify the markers necessary for a return to direct negotiations

Electricity is also a problem as no resources are made available from Ramallah to pay for the needed fuel to generate electricity. Deputy Palestinian Finance Minister Muhammad Mustafa will meet his US counterparts, as well as members of the congressional appropriation committee to work out the package that the Trump Administration will be offering to Abbas as part of the sweeteners to return to peace talks.

Palestinians officials are reacting with a high degree of intensity to the suggestion that President Trump is serious about the ultimate deal between Israelis and Palestinians. Abbas is also hoping to have a much better position regarding the renegade group in control over Gaza. Intensive and "unprecedented" moves were announced by the Ramallah government with the aim of ending the state of dual powers in control over the Palestinian areas.

The senior advance team of Erekat, Faraj and Mustafa will spend the comings days meeting with senior officials in the White House and congress as well as speaking to the media.

The visiting advance team will also be supported by a familiar face. The newly appointed head of the PLO delegation to Washington Husam Zomlot who was recently elected to the Fatah revolutionary council has been a senior advisor to President Abbas and has been a regular attendee at senior leadership meetings with president Abbas in Ramallah.

The May 3rd White House meeting is not expected to make any major announcements but it is hoped that the US-Palestinian summit will include a road map of sorts that can identify the markers necessary for a return to direct negotiations based on clear goals and accepted references, with a timeline that negotiators will need to respect.



Daoud Kuttab is an award-winning Palestinian journalist and former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University.

Follow him on Twitter: @daoudkuttab

The New ArabComments

Most Popular

Most Popular

    Read More