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April 16, 2019 4:54 pm

After Israeli Elections, Abbas Is Between a Rock and a Hard Place

avatar by Yoni Ben Menachem /


Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas gestures during a meeting of the Fatah Revolutionary Council, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Feb. 6, 2019. Photo: Reuters / Mohamad Torokman. The top ranks of the Palestinian Authority (PA) were greatly disappointed by the results of the general elections on April 9. The hope of PA leader Mahmoud Abbas and the Fatah leadership that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be defeated by Benny Gantz ended in disappointment.

Senior PLO official Saeb Erekat expressed this view when the final results of the elections were announced, stating: “The Israelis have voted ‘no to peace’ to preserve the current situation. They have said ‘no to peace and yes to the occupation.’”

The PA leadership was careful throughout the election campaign not to issue statements that could have been interpreted as interference, and helpful to Netanyahu. However, every child in the West Bank and Gaza knows that the Palestinian leadership wished for Netanyahu’s downfall. On April 9, Abbas played the supposedly “neutral” game when he said during a tour of a Ramallah hospital that, “We are watching what’s happening with our neighbor, and we hope they will take the right path towards peace.”

At the moment, what concerns the PA leadership is the strengthening of the right-wing bloc in Israel, and the expected publication of Donald Trump’s “deal of the century.” But what worries them the most is Netanyahu’s announcement on April 8 that he had informed Trump of his intention to annex territories in the West Bank “gradually and in coordination with the United States.”

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Senior Fatah officials say that the PA is powerless against any intention to annex the settlements and additional territories in the West Bank, and doesn’t have any diplomatic options to prevent it. Abbas announced on April 8 that the PA has already rejected Trump’s deal — “whatever will be, will be,” he stated. He continues to boycott the US administration, and is worried about the weakened stance of the Arab countries toward Trump’s policy in the Middle East.

The Arab countries displayed this weakness when the Trump administration recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and declared Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The Arab leaders have shown that they are strong in their condemnations, but do nothing when it comes to taking action.

The PA is concerned about the annexation of large settlement blocs in the West Bank and parts of Area C. PA sources state that Israel is not interested in annulling the Oslo Accords because it does not want to manage the lives of three million Palestinians. Israel wants the actual territory, and the PA will be left with the burden of taking care of the daily lives of the residents of the West Bank.

Abbas has failed miserably in his determined efforts to create opposition in the international arena to the policies of Trump regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Senior Fatah sources have tried over the past year to persuade him to open a secret channel of communication with the US administration to soften the clashes between the Palestinian Authority and the US government. But Abbas stubbornly refused, and he continues to boycott the Trump administration.

The result of Abbas’ policy toward the Trump administration will only further harm Palestinian interests. There is a deep division within Palestinian society, and a rift between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Abbas is in a difficult situation; he is opposed to an armed intifada against Israel, but his strategy of “popular resistance through peaceful means” has been a resounding failure in the West Bank territories.

Fatah sources fear that Netanyahu’s election victory and the growth of the right-wing bloc in the Knesset will give Netanyahu the impetus to advance the process of imposing Israeli sovereignty over lands in the West Bank and evacuating the Bedouin settlement of Khan al-Ahmar, on the road to the Jordan Valley.

Abbas does not have the political courage to “hang up his hat” and resign from his position. He continues to stick to his seat, and take care of his and his two sons’ sizable economic interests. The PA leadership is afraid of him, and senior Fatah officials prefer to avoid disputes with him because of the battle for the succession. Abbas is an obstinate politician who does not appreciate criticism. Anyone who argues with his policies will find himself isolated and outside the political game.

The Palestinians themselves, rather than their leadership, are paying the price for this.

Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as director general and chief editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.

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