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How Abbas is prepping for expected surge in nationalist sentiment

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is pinning his hopes on Egyptian and Jordanian pressure on the Trump administration to engage in a two-state solution process within a regional framework.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas stands on podium during a reception ceremony at the Queen Alia International Airport in Amman, Jordan March 28, 2017. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed - RTX332HR

The Palestinian leadership is preparing for June 2017, which will mark 50 years since the Israeli occupation began. It is preparing for a great surge of nationalistic sentiments. According to a senior PLO official close to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the leadership wants to lead this nationalistic wave, which reflects 50 years of despair, rather than be led by it.

Ramallah is currently preoccupied with the unrest among Fatah prisoners in Israeli jails. Championed by Fatah’s most famous prisoner, Marwan Barghouti, the prisoners launched a hunger strike on April 17. Also, Abbas’ entourage fears increased radicalization among the younger constituency in the West Bank, driven by Hamas’ virulent criticism of Abbas’ inaction and his security cooperation with Israel.

Apparently, this concern over the decline in Abbas’ support is shared by others. A senior Ministry of Foreign Affairs official dealing with policy analysis in the research branch of the ministry told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that the ministry is concerned by Abbas’ weakened position and his possible threat to dismantle the Palestinian Authority (PA). In the ministry’s analysis, Abbas is pinning his hopes on Egypt and Jordan applying pressure on the Donald Trump administration to engage in a two-state solution process within a regional framework.

The Israeli source said Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and King Abdullah II of Jordan have conveyed to Abbas their positive impression of Trump’s serious attitude to what was defined to them in the White House as regional deal-making. The two leaders also shared their assessment with Abbas regarding the composition of the Washington new power chain. For them, the most influential people in Trump’s entourage are the following, in this order: Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, national security adviser Gen. H.R. McMaster and international negotiation adviser Jason Greenblatt. From the Egyptian/Jordanian point of view, these people come across as staunchly pro-Israel yet also pragmatic and understanding of the centrality of the Palestinian issue in the Arab world. Sisi’s impression was that the first priority issue for Trump is the fight against the Islamic State and, therefore, keeping the Arab pragmatic coalition intact.

According to the Israeli analysis, Sisi, Abdullah and Abbas are well-coordinated. The three of them met on the sidelines of the Arab League summit in Amman, Jordan, on March 29 and decided that each of them, in their respective meetings with Trump, would prioritize the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative as the basis for a regional conference to be summoned by Trump in Washington this year in order to launch Israeli-Palestinian negotiations for a two-state solution.

And so the threats emanating from Abbas’ office as to the possible dismantling of the PA are aimed at pressuring Egypt and Jordan to exert their influence on the administration about the urgency for a so-called regional deal. The PLO official told Al-Monitor that 2017 must be the year of Arab unity on the Palestinian statehood issue. He said that the main issue on Abbas’ diplomatic agenda for the coming months will be a timeline for a regional conference for a two-state solution led by the Trump administration. Abbas and his team are proposing that such a conference take place in September, in parallel with the UN General Assembly, so that other heads of state could also participate. The Palestinian leader will ask for a complete settlement freeze by Israel and will agree to Trump’s demand to halt official incitement of violence.

Encouraged by what he heard in Amman from Greenblatt about the president’s belief that time has come for a regional deal, Abbas would like Trump to personally lead this diplomatic effort. But according to the senior Ministry of Foreign Affairs official, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is confident about Trump agreeing with Israel’s position on the conditions for regional deal-making: bilateral and unconditional negotiations without predetermining the outcome, emphasizing Israeli security interests and the recognition of its identity as a Jewish state. Yet the official repeated what the Palestinian official also said — that the most predictable thing about Trump is his unpredictability.

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