The statement made by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the effect that the Palestinians will no longer abide by the previous agreements made with Israel was predictable. A two-state solution looks increasingly unrealistic in the current conditions. Israel is actively developing Palestinian territories, and its recent decision to demolish buildings in a Palestinian village near Jerusalem is clear evidence of this policy. The demolition was the last straw for Abbas, who had to give a harsh response to preserve his prestige and the support of the Palestinians.
However, it is a challenging task. The political context is unfavorable for the realization of the Palestinians’ national rights.
First of all, the Arab elites’ priorities have changed in light of tensions in the Arab world and complicated relations of some Arab states with Iran. The Palestinian problem, although theoretically important for the Arabs, has been put on the back burner.
Second, when other challenges and threats are seen as more important, the unsettled Palestinian problem ceases to be an insurmountable obstacle to the gradual development of ties between Israel and the leading Arab states, primarily the Gulf countries. The absence of diplomatic relations no longer hinders visits by high-ranking Israeli officials and generals. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Oman in November 2018. The Israeli judo team for the first time ever took part in an international judo competition in Abu Dhabi under the national flag. Israelis attend numerous conferences and seminars held in Arab countries.
Third, the US administration is advocating its own vision of the Palestinian problem, which, as the Russian Foreign Ministry said, is actually aimed at destroying the legal framework of the Middle East settlement. Although the parameters of the US “deal of the century” remain opaque, some of Washington’s moves, such as the transfer of the US Embassy to Jerusalem, the decision to stop funding the UN relief agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), and the recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, are a matter of serious concern. The Palestinians boycotted the Bahrain conference held in late June 2019, where the US president’s son-in-law and advisor, Jared Kushner, put forth an economic plan for the development of the Palestinian territories, under which $28 billion will be invested in the economy of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The US administration will only present the political part of the plan after these funds are mobilized (which could turn out to be just another mirage). In other words, the Palestinians are being told that their quality of life in the Palestinian territories would greatly improve if they abandon their political demands.
Lastly, Mahmoud Abbas is facing huge internal political challenges, which explains his harsh stand. Many Palestinians, especially young people, believe his legitimacy is a moot question, because presidential elections have not been held since 2009 due to the Fatah-Hamas schism and the president’s powers have been extended by the PLO. Abbas has not even appointed a deputy, which has only exacerbated the problem of succession. The list of possible candidates, who mostly support Abbas’s boycott of the US proposals and any agreements with Israel, includes former head of security services in the West Bank Jibril Rajoub, head of the Palestinian Authority’s General Intelligence Service Majed Faraj, and politician Saeb Erekat. Observers say another candidate could be Gaza Strip security chief Mohammad Dahlan, who has good relations with both the United States and Israel, as well as with some Arab leaders. It is also possible that some external forces could help accelerate Abbas’s removal from power.
Although Abbas’s reaction to recent developments is logical, it can hardly benefit the Palestinian Authority in conditions of an asymmetrical conflict. Abbas is upping the stakes so as to attract attention to the Palestinian problem and to demonstrate readiness to fight against Israel’s policy. However, paradoxically enough, this approach is playing into the hands of the right-wing forces in Israel that have always been against the Oslo Accords. His position is weak because the group of his external supporters is dwindling.
Nevertheless, there will be no peace in the Middle East without the settlement of the Palestinian problem. But nobody can say if it will regain its place at the top of the international agenda, which has been overstrained with mutual complaints and mistrust.