The Palestinian Predicament
Amb Anil Trigunayat, Distinguished Fellow, VIF

The normalisation of diplomatic relations between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain earlier this month has changed the regional dynamic as more Arab countries may follow the lead. This has a direct impact on the Palestinian psyche and support system as the Arab League countries always mandated that any normalisation of ties with the Jewish state will be predicated on the two states solution in accordance with UN Resolutions, Arab Peace Plan of 2002 and the international understandings like Oslo Accords. However, nearly a century old issue continues to fester and in the bargain the fatigue with the cause seems to have set in among the Arab nations.

Palestinians feel that many of the Arab countries had begun to pay lip service as indirectly they had developed informal and formal ties with Tel Aviv. It was a matter of time that the inevitable rapprochement with Israel will happen. Moreover, Netanyahu’s persistence, Trump’s Deal of the Century and the changing global and regional dynamic including the impact of Arab Spring and rise of Turkey and Iran accelerated the process and resultant outcome. Inability of the Palestinians to arrange the extraordinary meeting of the Arab league to discuss and criticise the so called Abraham Accords is indicative of the malaise that has set in the organisation as far as the unstinted support for the Palestinian cause was concerned. Palestinians not only criticised it as “League of Shame” but also refused to Chair its meetings. Saeb Erekat, Secretary General of PLO criticized Arab league and the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) “Why do they convene if they did not convene for the violation of a state’s constitution” referring to the Emirati constitution that enshrines commitment to common Arab agenda.

Onset of President Trump and his penchant for the unifocal and occasionally one-sided approaches to this complex issue further compounded the problem and eroded their role as a trusted arbiter. For the Palestinians the issue of their motherland is truly emotional as well whereas Jared Kushner crafted his deal more as a commercial sop. Palestinian women continue to pass the key of their erstwhile houses to their daughters and daughters in law in the hope that they will regain their homes. For the Palestinians the ‘Deal of the Century’ was unacceptable as it preceded by Trump de facto declaring Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and legitimising the settlements in West Bank and Jordan valley.

Israeli PM Netanyahu wanted to proceed with annexing nearly 30% of the West Bank as a part of the deal which he had readily accepted but met with huge international resistance. Hence suspending the annexation of West Bank as part of the Abraham Accords provided Netanyahu, also suffering from domestic discord, a safe exit from a very tricky situation and a reasonable alibi to the two Gulf States. It is a fact that issue of Palestine will continue to remain relevant for real normalisation across the region and for the ones that took the lead.

Initially there was significant uproar and rabid criticism of the Emirati and Bahraini leadership but President Abbas “calling it a stab in the back’ but putting on a brave front asked his people to fight on “We aren’t worried about the non-sense that happens here and there. You cannot take our place. Palestine speaks in its own name”. But they know it rather well that Arab support is crucial for Palestine and the new champions of their cause the Iranians and Turks may stand up but won’t be able to replace the financial support and the political clout that their Arab brethren could afford. But the key Arab states have been pushing for beginning of a dialogue between the two sides ever since Trump’s deal of the century came into being. Even Palestinians are realising the import of some sort of negotiations but are looking for a more reliable and overtly unprejudiced arbiter like the UN or EU for the peace process since US has lost that status. Despite this President Trump and nearly everyone else is hoping that the recent developments might enable some dialogue to begin as the Palestinians will find it difficult to resist for too long.

Perhaps there is also a positive fall out for the Palestinians. The Abraham Accords also provided the Palestinians an opportunity to overcome their internal divisions and to agree to a unified platform. They were united in the criticism and fear of the unknown as the representatives from Hamas, Jihad General Command and Al-Saiqa were present at the meeting to decry the conspiracy in Ramallah after the announcement of the UAE Deal. It was followed by a recent deal in Istanbul between the two largest political factions Hamas and Fatah to hold the elections within next six months after nearly 15 years. Fatah and Palestinian Authority Leader Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Ismael Hania agreed to hold the elections in a logical sequence “We have agreed to first hold legislative elections, then presidential elections of the Palestinian Authority, and finally the central council of the Palestine Liberation Organization”.

It will be recalled that in 2006 Parliamentary elections Hamas had won by an unexpected majority however the Unity government was short-lived and violence followed. Since then the internationally sanctioned Hamas has ruled in Gaza while Fatah has ruled in Palestinian Authority’s seat in Ramallah. While these efforts are a welcome move one would have to wait as to what eventually happens in Jerusalem and Gaza strip and whether elections will be held there.

Much remains to be done and whether the international community will recognise the election results unlike last time, if Hamas has a larger win, will decide the future course of peace. Meanwhile, the Palestine Authority (PA) Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh assured that the PA was ready to provide full facilitation for the success of these elections as a gateway to “renewing democratic life, and for solidifying national unity in the face of serious and existential dangers that threaten the Palestinian cause for the first time in its history”. Even the renegade leader currently in exile in UAE , Muhammed Dahlan in a face Book post said “ Palestine needs an elected leader. I am Muhammed Dahlan. I believe that Palestine is in urgent need for renewal of legitimacy for its leaders and institutions, and this will not be achieved except through comprehensive, transparent, and national elections.” It is being surmised that Dahlan who is also an Adviser to the Crown Prince could potentially replace Abbas or at least that’s what he and his benefactors hope.

In the meanwhile as the expanse of normalisation between Gulf States and Israel moves on apace, the calls for resolution of the Palestinian issue on priority and the failure of the international community and the UN@75 to effectively address the illegal occupation have become the talking points. Saudi King and Kuwaiti Emir have all spoken in no uncertain terms while the Qatari Emir addressing the UNGA reiterated “Peace can only be achieved when Israel fully commits to the international terms of reference and resolutions that are accepted by the Arab countries and upon which the Arab Peace Initiative is based.” As Abu Mazen (President Abbas) at his UN speech “called for an International Conference, to be held early next year, to launch a ‘genuine peace process’ the Israeli Ambassador to UN dismissed his accusations as a “saturation of lies’. Perhaps good sense will prevail on all sides and stake holders so that Dialogue could lead to an equitable settlement and eventual peace.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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