RAMALLAH, West Bank — US President Donald Trump's announcement of the details of the US Middle East peace plan — known as the deal of the century — on Jan. 28 challenged the Palestinian Authority's (PA) ability to develop a national strategy to counter it.
The PA is in a race against time to take some steps within this strategy before the Israeli elections scheduled for March 2020, after which Israel is expected to start implementing the terms of the deal — especially with regard to annexing parts of the West Bank and declaring Israeli sovereignty over them.
The PA is operating through two main paths before the Israeli elections are held in order to confront the deal, the first of which is mobilizing Arab and international support rejecting the deal.
At the international level, President Mahmoud Abbas delivered a speech Feb. 11 at the Security Council rejecting the deal and stressing that the solution to the Palestinian cause must be consistent with international legitimacy resolutions.
Meanwhile, the PA is putting together a draft resolution to submit to the Security Council, but no date has been set for a vote. Should the United States veto the draft resolution, the Palestinians will resort to rejecting the deal under the United for Peace resolution, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki told Voice of Palestine official radio Feb. 4.
PLO Executive Committee member Saeb Erekat denied to Palestine TV Feb. 10 reports about the withdrawal of the draft resolution submitted by the Arab Group and the non-aligned movement to the Security Council, pointing out that the decision is subject to consultations and deliberation and will be submitted after its completion, without specifying a date, as of the time of writing.
As for the second path, the PA is seeking to end the Palestinian division and achieve reconciliation with Hamas. In this context, members of Fatah’s Central Committee Rouhi Fattouh and Ismail Jabr, who is also Abbas’ security affairs adviser, arrived in Gaza Feb. 7. They are scheduled to meet with Palestinian factions and Hamas during their stay in Gaza in order to prepare for a visit by a delegation from the PLO to Gaza, according to a senior Fatah source in the Gaza Strip.
A PLO leader and member of the delegation to visit Gaza told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity the delegation will visit Gaza this week should no emergency prevent it.
He noted that announcing the deal of the century has created a unified stance among Palestinian factions, all of which rejected it and stressed the need to work according to a national strategy to address it on the basis of ending the internal division to create a united internal front.
The source pointed out that the leadership meeting held in Ramallah headed by Abbas on Jan. 28 — with the participation of Hamas and Islamic Jihad — and the phone call that took place between the president and Hamas politburo chief Ismail Haniyeh on the same day constituted a major momentum in the efforts to end the division.
The PA’s focus on these two paths may point to its delay in taking any decisive and fateful decisions when it comes to its relationship with Israel before the Israeli elections, such as the decision to stop security coordination, as a member of Fatah’s Central Committee and the former intelligence chief Tawfiq Tirawi told Wattan local TV Feb. 5. He said, “Stopping security coordination is the PA’s final card. The decision to stop security coordination will be taken if the occupation implements the annexation decision in the West Bank.”
Abbas had said as he chaired the Feb. 3 Cabinet meeting that security coordination with Israel will end. So far security coordination is still ongoing, despite Abbas announcing cutting ties with Israel and the United States during a speech before the Arab League Council Feb. 1.
The deputy secretary-general of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Qais Abd al-Karim, told Al-Monitor that work to develop an action strategy internally or with Israel is ongoing, as arrangements are being made in order to resume the national dialogue to end the division, noting that a PLO delegation will visit Gaza in the next few days.
Abd al-Karim pointed out that the unity of the political position of the Palestinian factions regarding the deal of the century was embodied by their participation in the leadership meeting in Ramallah and the agreement on the Gaza meeting, which establishes a basis for national unity to implement the strategy to confront Israel and the deal.
He noted that the strategy will be represented in the decisions of the PLO’s Central and National councils by escalating the popular resistance in the Palestinian territories to create a comprehensive popular confrontation, in order to be liberated of all the obligations of the Oslo Accords, including stopping security coordination, boycotting Israel politically and economically, withdrawing recognition of Israel, and pursuing Israeli leaders at the international level.
Abd al-Karim said the milestones of the strategy are clear, and what is required is only an action plan to implement it — which will be formulated at the highest leadership level. He said the dialogues that took place in Ramallah and will take place in Gaza are in preparation for a meeting in the presence of Abbas to develop an implementation plan for this strategy.
In his speech after the leadership meeting Jan. 28, Abbas referred to this strategy briefly, saying, “We will immediately start taking all measures that require changing the functional role of the national authority in the implementation of the decisions of the Central and National councils.”
In January 2018, the PLO’s Central Council decided to suspend its recognition of Israel until the latter recognizes the state of Palestine, to stop security coordination, and to call for a full-power international conference to launch the peace process, but the decisions were never implemented. The PLO’s National Council had issued similar decisions during its meeting in May 2018.
The secretary of Fatah’s Revolutionary Council, Majed al-Fityani, told Al-Monitor, “Fatah is going with an open heart in order to end the division — and not go back to the past — and to come up with a position that pleases our people, which enables us to deal with all issues in order to escape this bottleneck." He added, "We must be optimistic. Fatah will not stop at every single detail, because the division issue must be overcome no matter the political sacrifices.”
The Palestinians realize they cannot face the deal of the century as long as division exists; thus, achieving reconciliation has become an unavoidable necessity before them, given the challenges that Israel will impose on the ground whether by annexing parts of the West Bank or dividing Al-Aqsa Mosque temporally and spatially, amid wide popular confrontations with the Israeli army.
The various factions now face a difficult test, and they would be doing the deal of century a huge favor should they fail it.