The US State Department announced Feb. 23 that the US Embassy in Israel would be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in mid-May, to coincide with Israel’s 70th Independence Day. The Israeli Embassy in the United States cited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reaction to the decision: “This is a great day for the people of Israel. … This decision will turn Israel’s 70th Independence Day into an even bigger celebration.”
Even as the temporary embassy site (until a permanent facility is built) is being inaugurated, the Palestinians will be marking the 70th anniversary of their annual Nakba Day commemorating the “catastrophe” that befell them when Israel was established in 1948. Just as Netanyahu noted the added importance of this day for Israel in light of the US Embassy move, so presumably will the Palestinians’ sense of loss be intensified this year by great anger at the decision.
Saeb Erekat, the secretary-general of the PLO Executive Committee and former chief Palestinian negotiator with Israel and the United States, claims the American decision to relocate the embassy during the very month that Palestinians will mark their 70th Nakba Day is “a flagrant violation of international law and agreements” with Israel. Indeed, Erekat’s comment reflects the more militant line he has recently adopted compared with that of the Palestinian leadership — for instance telling US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley to "shut up.” Nonetheless, other top officials in the Palestinian Authority (PA) are also expressing rage over what they view as repeated humiliation by the administration of President Donald Trump, which they accuse of lacking diplomatic integrity.
A member of the Palestinian Committee for Interaction with Israeli Society, speaking on condition of anonymity, described to Al-Monitor the pervasive sentiment within the PA. “Not only have they spit in our face, but in order to complete our humiliation they are now moving the embassy on Nakba Day and sticking their finger deep into the eyes of the Palestinians and of Abu Mazen [PA President Mahmoud Abbas].”
Abbas appointed the committee in 2012 to promote Palestinian dialogue with the Israeli public, but it hardly ever meets — not only because of obstacles placed in its way by Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who banned the panel’s chairman Mohammed al-Madani from entering Israel in June 2016, but also because overall negotiations between the sides have died out.
Members of the committee are careful not to say so publicly, but it seems that they sense their mission is over and that they will have to rethink their course, as will the PA as a whole. The Palestinian leadership no longer has any expectations of the US mediator who disappointed them. However, despite their realization that nothing good will come of Trump, they are having a hard time dealing with the blows the president and his administration repeatedly rain down on them.
US Vice President Mike Pence said during his January visit to Israel that the embassy would only be moved at the end of 2019, but since the recent announcement that the date had been moved up, the Palestinians have started devising ways to “stick it” to the Americans. The PLO Executive Committee is debating a proposal by Erekat and others to hold a parallel event that would divert attention away from the US Embassy inauguration to the Palestinian protest.
Many Palestinians believe more “days of rage” of the kind they mount each year would be perceived as just another protest and would not serve their goals. According to the source, they would rather stage a “productive event” that would, on the one hand, express their opposition to what they term the “iniquities of the American administration,” and on the other highlight their determination to mobilize international backing for negotiations on the establishment of a Palestinian state with its capital in Jerusalem.
Deputy Fatah Chairman Mahmoud al-Aloul has been planning mass public Nakba Day protests that could lead to clashes with Israeli forces, and he is unlikely — it seems for the moment — to back down. Given that domestic political considerations are also behind Fatah’s planned days of rage, the leadership may decide to hold parallel events of a different nature.
Whether the Palestinians declare “days of rage” or not, the PLO Executive Committee is drawing up plans to invite to Ramallah, the seat of the PA in the West Bank, representatives of countries that have recognized a Palestinian state and those that have yet to declare their recognition.
The United Kingdom is one of the countries that could be invited; the British Parliament adopted a symbolic resolution in October 2014 recognizing a Palestinian state (though this decision does not commit the British government to change its policy). Although Abbas has since threatened to sue the United Kingdom over the 1917 Balfour Declaration recognizing the Jews’ right to a homeland in Palestine, claiming the decision led to the Palestinian Nakba, senior PA officials nonetheless believe they can count on the United Kingdom to support their bid for statehood at the UN. They cite, for example, the British objection to Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and suggest the British may also wish to make up for past wrongs toward the Palestinians.
The Palestinians also expect the participation in the ceremony they are planning of countries that have officially recognized Palestine. Among them are Sweden, South Africa, nine South American states including Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay, Turkey and possibly India following the Feb. 10 visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the PA.
The Palestinian source told Al-Monitor that the burgeoning initiative is designed, among other things, to show that Abbas has not spoken his final word on the subject and that despite the heavy blows he has sustained in recent months, he is waging a rearguard battle against the Americans. Nonetheless, it is hard to believe that a symbolic ceremony, which is in essence still a protest event, will change the prevailing impression among Abbas’ opponents and few remaining supporters. They believe that he has been vanquished in the international arena and that anything he does now is only designed to salvage his public image.