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Abbas: Hard Line Language and Moderate Behavior

Abbas: Hard Line Language and Moderate Behavior

Saturday, 1 February, 2020 - 13:00
Nabil Amr
Palestinian writer and politician

The speech that Mahmoud Abbas gave minutes after the end of the speeches of Trump and Netanyahu upset many of those who expected the man, after what he had heard, to take more dramatic decisions immediately.

This expectation stemmed from the threats that prominent Palestinian figures directed at Washington before its announcement. Namely, they made threats like: Canceling Oslo, withdrawing their recognition of Israel, ending security coordination, escalating their moves towards total disengagement from Israel, replacing the state with autonomy, dissolving the Palestinian Authority and transferring its responsibilities to the PLO.

The implementation of actions like these require hundreds of political and administrative decisions, which - if they were taken - would embody a comprehensive and radical change to the status quo, without a guarantee that what would come out of it will succeed.

The Palestinian political class, which showered the world with these kinds of declarations, is unfamiliar with President Abbas and the way he thinks, even as many of them speak in his name. The facts show that what they are saying is merely false conclusions. All of them- even those who sit at the so-called leadership table- know nothing (and they say this in their private meetings).

It was necessary for Abbas’s speech to take the hard-line stance it did in response to the scene that had come out of Washington that Tuesday, which was described- purely for advertising- as the day that separates yesterday from tomorrow.

Abbas, on his part, went on to describe what Trump offered in his deal, and went as far as promising to respond to it with slaps that will come in the future. Abbas also refused to speak with Trump and refused to receive his messages. This behavior, even with the national disagreement about its utility, suits the moment according to the Palestinian tradition. Indeed it is considered an evolution of this tradition that surpasses Arafat’s response after the famous incident between him and the administration when he said: “I am the only one to have said no to America inside the White House.”

Abbas, in his heated speech, continued to send messages of moderation to the Arab and international forces that he needs, if not to achieve primary objectives- and it is not the time for that now- then to remain part of the international and regional equation, especially since this equation still has a place for the Palestinians within it, a place that is worth keeping.

The hardline nature of the speech did not hide commitment to moderation and mentioned things the world wants to hear from the Palestinians that can be summed up in the phrase: “We are for negotiations”.

It did not breach the red lines set by moderate regional and international forces, the red lines that members of the Palestinian political class had crossed, as mentioned at the beginning of this article.

Even the strong words Abbas directed at Netanyahu did not include any concrete decisions; instead, he spoke of the possibility of being forced to take such decisions if Natanyahu were to continue to breach the Oslo Accords and the “deal of century” were implemented after being accepted by one side. In this context, it is not only the Palestinians who stand to lose from the annexation of the Jordan Valley and having Israeli sovereignty forced on all settlements in the West Bank, but the Jordanians as well.

What drew my attention while analyzing President Abbas’s speech is that the man needs time to clarify his stance, which could be final. He bought himself some time, internally, by bringing up reconciliation and referring to a possible visit to Gaza, with the Arabs, by taking part in the conference of Arab foreign ministers scheduled for Saturday in Cairo, through which he can hear their real stances from them directly. However, from the early signs shown by Arabs, he knows that their stance already holds something new this time. For in addition to the consensus on supporting Palestinians’ rights and the “moderation of the Palestinians’ stance”, there is obvious disagreement on how to deal with the “deal of the century”.

The two sides with the most influence on formal Palestinian politics are Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and both of them asked Abbas to hold off any measures that lack their cover. Until now, they have agreed to advise the Palestinians to be patient and postpone any actions until they discuss them directly with the two countries.

Abbas- even if we were to simplify things and fabricate hope- faces a multifaceted crisis- for the Palestinians are still divided, and even a dramatic visit to Gaza, if it were to happen, would not end the division; indeed, the most that could be achieved from it is the commencement of a long journey. The Arab situation is even worse than divided. As for the international community, which has not endorsed the “deal of the century”, there is a wide gap between the stances it takes and the measures it is able to enforce when confronting America, and no one knows this better than Abbas.

Abbas is well aware of all this, and he knows that all Palestinians are faced with a decisive test, and there is no doubt that leaders’ talents are demonstrated when faced with a difficult situation and as they try to get out of crises.

Things are not all doom and gloom, if the Palestinians utilize the few tools available to them correctly, they can guarantee a place for themselves in the equation, which is the best they can hope for at a time that can be described- after softening the description- as lousy.

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