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Palestinians hope to regain global attention after Iran deal

Israel and the Palestinians are both preparing themselves for the new period opening up after the signing of the nuclear agreement with Iran, with Netanyahu's government moving more to the right and the Palestinians encouraging a French-led UN resolution proposal.
Palestinians hold a large flag depicting President Mahmoud Abbas (L) and late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat during a rally marking the annual al-Quds Day, or Jerusalem Day, on the fourth Friday of the holy month of Ramadan, at the compound known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City July 10, 2015. An Israeli police spokesperson said on Friday that some 140,000 people attended the prayers on the compound and some 56,000 Palestinians from the West Bank enter

Among all Middle East countries, Israel and Palestine are probably the most focused on lining up policies and political coalitions to deal with the aftermath of the Iran agreement.

Both have much to lose or gain the “day after.” The Israeli government, which considers the agreement a strategic threat to the country’s national security, will do its utmost to undermine the agreement by interfering in the congressional debate. At the same time, it is contemplating a defense compensation package from the United States. A senior source close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that the prime minister will demand that the US administration, both the White House and the State Department, help him brush the Palestinian issue under the carpet. Netanyahu will argue that he will not engage in a process that, according to him, risks ending up in a pro-Iranian enclave in the West Bank.

As for the Palestinian leadership, it waits impatiently for the end of the debate in the US Congress over the Iranian deal in order to engage in an international diplomatic offensive on Palestinian statehood. A Palestinian senior political source told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that President Mahmoud Abbas stressed to French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius in a June 21 talk in Ramallah that he is ready to coordinate with France on an initiative for the renewal of negotiations and a move at the UN Security Council.

This Palestinian quest seems to gain support from various EU members. A senior source in Brussels close to EU High Commissioner Federica Mogherini, who asked not to divulge his name, told Al-Monitor, “With no agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, violence will rise again, and those opposing a two-state solution will grow stronger.” This assessment is shared by most important EU member states.

While waiting for the Iran deal approval process in Congress, and in view of looming European initiatives, Jerusalem and Ramallah are each positioning themselves and preparing for the battles to come.

In Israel, Netanyahu continues to move to the right, and a national unity government is apparently not on the horizon. His first preference is to have right-wing Yisrael Beitenu Chair Avigdor Liberman join the coalition.

The Palestinian leadership in Ramallah is engaged in a bitter power struggle with Hamas. The Palestinian Authority (PA) arrested more than 100 Hamas operatives July 1-2, accusing Hamas of creating a terror base in the West Bank in order to incite terror and provoke an intifada. It seems that while Hamas is exploring a long-term truce with Israel, turmoil in the West Bank only serves its interests.

Inside the PA, Abbas has appointed Saeb Erekat as secretary-general of the PLO, replacing Yasser Abed Rabbo, who was dismissed for allegedly orchestrating an alliance to undermine Abbas, together with former Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and former Arafat confidant Mohammed Dahlan. This is part of the Abbas’ succession struggle.

The appointment of Erekat, a chief negotiator and one of the PA’s most prominent spokesmen, is also an indication of the policy direction that Abbas intends to take in favor of a diplomatic offensive and away from an intifada.

Given this Palestinian political positioning and a sense of urgency emanating from European capitals on an eventual diplomatic process, one can foresee in the aftermath of the Iran agreement a coordinated European-Palestinian effort toward a renewal of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Such a move would follow the same conditions that were proposed by Secretary of State John Kerry in April 2014; namely, the release of the remaining Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails from the pre-Oslo Accord period (1993) and an end to unilateral moves by both parties (no settlement expansion for Israel, no UN statehood bid for the Palestinians).

According to the senior diplomatic source in Brussels, in case Israel rejects renewing the peace talks under these conditions, it is likely that France will propose a Security Council resolution on Palestinian statehood, with a two- to three-year timeline and security guarantees for Israel.

It is doubtful whether such diplomatic moves have a chance of ending the peace process stalemate unless the United States decides to vigorously engage itself. Once the Iranian agreement starts getting implemented, and up until the beginning of the US presidential primaries in early 2016, Washington would find it very difficult to take the lead on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. And so, even in the aftermath of the Iran agreement, the Palestinian statehood issue will most probably remain on the back burner of the international community.

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