RAMALLAH, West Bank — Palestinians have mixed expectations about a potential US role in reviving the peace process with Israel. Some are optimistic that Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will be able to convince US President Donald Trump's administration to energize negotiations impartially, while others fear Trump's previously stated support of Israel indicates he will either heavily skew the process in Israel's favor or torpedo it all together.
After the Arab League Summit on March 29 in Jordan, Abdullah and Sisi set in motion political action in the United States to mobilize the peace process between Palestinians and Israelis. The two leaders are making their move based on agreements reached during the summit: Arab leaders there mainly agreed to work toward setting "a specific timetable for ending the conflict based on the two-state solution,” observing the Arab Peace Initiative adopted during a 2002 summit.
Azzam Ahmad, a member of political party Fatah's Central Committee, said in an April 2 statement that the Fatah-ruled Palestinian Authority (PA) is counting on Sisi and Abdullah to convey to Trump the decisions reached during the recent summit and during a March 29 tripartite meeting among Sisi, Abdullah and PA President Mahmoud Abbas. During that meeting, the leaders agreed to coordinate their next steps and persuade Trump of the Palestinian wish to resume the peace process with Israel.
Sisi visited Washington and met with Trump on April 3. Their talks addressed the Palestinian cause, among other issues. Two days later, Abdullah met with Trump, after which he praised “Trump's commitment to dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” saying he had high hopes for the Arab League peace initiative, which could help Trump bring together Palestinians and Israelis. Abbas is due to meet with Trump in Washington this month.
Palestinian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Tayseer Jaradat told Al-Monitor that Abdullah and Sisi have seen a positive change in Trump's position on the Palestinian cause, most notably when he instructed CIA director Mike Pompeo to meet Feb. 15 with Abbas in Ramallah. Another sign of this change are the two meetings held in March between Abbas and Trump’s special representative for international negotiations, Jason Greenblatt, during which they exchanged views on how to revive the political process.
A Fatah source told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that the PA is awaiting details of the meetings that Sisi and Abdullah held in Washington. Meanwhile, the PA is also preparing to send a delegation of officials to Washington soon to prepare for Abbas’ visit.
Author and political analyst Ahmad Rafik Awad told Al-Monitor, “The PA is greatly relying on the Egyptian and Jordanian roles, as they are important players in the Middle East. The US administration and the international community perceive Jordan and Egypt with utmost respect and credibility as moderate states and partners in the fight against terrorism, especially since they have signed peace treaties with Israel.”
Awad added, “The PA wants Egypt and Jordan to be a bridge and a mediator with the US administration to explain Palestinian positions."
Despite that reliance, some members of the Palestinian leadership have expressed concerns about the US administration potentially striking a deal to eliminate the Palestinian cause by, for example, launching a broad, regional political process involving Israel and Arab countries before finding a solution to the Palestinian cause.
“We don't know how Trump might handle the Palestinian cause or how he might respond to our position on reviving the peace process," Abbas Zaki, a member of Fatah’s Central Committee, told Al-Monitor.
“Trump has bound himself from the very beginning to support Israel by appointing ambassadors and envoys like Thomas Friedman. So no matter how diplomatic Trump can be, he can only look at the Palestinian cause through the eyes of his pro-Israel advisers," Zaki said. "Trump declared his absolute support for Israel even before taking over the presidency by pledging to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and to support the [Israeli] settlements.”
He added, “This is why we fear that Trump might strike a deal to eliminate the Palestinian cause altogether, especially since he realizes that Arab countries have no power or influence in the region compared to Israel."
About the nature of such a deal, Zaki said it could favor the Israeli policy of “allowing settlement activities to continue and insisting on recognizing the Jewish character of the State of Israel, with Jerusalem as its capital, as well as denying the Palestinian refugees their right to return,” all of which are conditions that Palestinians can't accept.
Nayef Rajoub, a leader of Hamas in the West Bank, told Al-Monitor, “The endeavor of the Egyptian president and the king of Jordan is only a desperate attempt to breathe life into the dead peace process." He believes the attempt will fail, or "succeed," only at the expense of the Palestinian cause.
Like Zaki, Rajoub expressed concern about Washington potentially cooking up a way to intentionally thwart Palestinian efforts.
“I believe the US administration has a new political scheme in the making to eliminate the Palestinian cause. Both the Palestinian and Arab situations are weak [compared with Israel's], which makes it impossible to reach a political solution to our issue. [It] only paves the way for further concessions," Zaki said.
Despite the Palestinian reliance on Egypt and Jordan to persuade the United States to launch the peace process without bias in Israel’s favor, the Palestinian situation will remain on hold pending the options Trump presents to Abbas during their upcoming meeting in Washington.