One gets the impression that Abbas would not last very long on The Apprentice.
After 8 years of the Obama administration, Abbas sat and did nothing, relying on Obama to do the heavy lifting and force concessions out of Netanyahu. Then towards the end of Trump’s first year, Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and set in motion plans to move the US embassy in the future. He made it clear that the US was not taking a position on the future of Jerusalem or how it might be shared.
On January 14, at a meeting of the Palestinian Central Council in Ramallah, Abbas reacted – badly – with a major tantrum that lasted for over 2 hours. It was televised, yet covered only partially by the western media. Aside from conjuring up a number of historical fabrications undercutting Israel’s historical ties and rights to Israel, Abbas went so far as to curse Trump: “May God demolish your house.”
If he was figuring on getting Trump to backtrack or get some other kind of concession, Abbas miscalculated. Instead, there were those who saw the tirade as revealing the growing weakness of the Palestinian Authority.
Time has come for Israel and the US to tell PLO that the game is up. With or without Abbas, PLO is a dead man walking and is in no position to demand anything from anyone. Only a mad megalomaniac despot living in fantasyland, issues threats to powerful nations like the US and Israel.
Dr. Mordechai Kedar gave an interview where he saw Abbas’s rant as an indication of how lost the Palestinian Authority is:
They [the Palestinian Authority] actually are losing all the direction. They have no idea what to do now because they have no agenda. Everything which they believed in turned out to be actually nothing and this frustration I think will bring the end of the Palestinian Authority.
Roger Cohen, an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times and no fan of either Netanyahu or Trump, writes that It’s Time for Mahmoud Abbas to Go. He notes what he considers the intransigence of Netanyahu and the danger of Trump —
But even in this environment, Mahmoud Abbas, the 82-year-old Palestinian president, cannot escape responsibility for failure. His government is now widely seen as a corrupt gerontocracy. It is inept, remote, self-serving and ever more authoritarian. Elected to a four-year term in January 2005, he’s entering the 14th year of a largely unaccountable presidency.
And Bill Maher on his show Real Time flat out agreed with Trump’s decision on Jerusalem: I hate to agree with Donald Trump, but it doesn’t happen often, but I do.
But Trump was just getting started.
|Official Portrait of President Donald Trump|
On January 16, spokesperson Heather Nauert announced at a department press briefing that the US was cutting back on its funding of UNRWA:
[W]e delivered a letter today to UNRWA, the United Nations Relief Works Agency for Palestinian refugees in the Near East – UNRWA. We committed a voluntary contribution of $60 million for 2018 so far. This will be divided into tranches. Sixty million is what we have indicated as the first available tranche. That money is going to sustain schools and health services to ensure that teachers and also health care providers can be paid their salaries. One of the reasons we decided to do this is that we felt that not providing that money would run the risk of having the organization and the people there run out of funds and that those entities would have to be potentially closed down.
…We have people on the ground who take a look at some of the UNRWA activities and things they do, how the money is being spent. And one of the things this administration would like to do, just as we talk about UN reform, is take a look at UNRWA, trying to make sure that the money is best spent and best spent so that people can get the services, whether it’s school or the health care services, that they need.
If Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem and promise of an embassy move was not enough, this announcement was yet another indication that change was in the air. Trump was going to back up the things he said. In the Middle East at least, there were going to be consequences — this time for those who opposed US interests and not for those who were its allies.
Compared with 8 years of Obama, this came across as a novel approach.
At the Middle East Forum, Gregg Roman wrote that Trump Is Right to Cut Funding to UNRWA, but he also saw this as part of actual Trump policy in the Middle East:
Asked about the decision, the State Department said deliberations are ongoing about how to move forward. This presents a tremendous opportunity, but it will take more bold action by the White House. The administration must continue to hold the Palestinians accountable for their rejectionism.
Like Trump’s December move on Jerusalem, this represents a bold step that is long overdue. UNRWA, the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency, long has needed reform, but with Palestinian leadership unwilling to even feign serious commitment to peace, it’s probably time to scrap the agency altogether. It stands in the way of peace.
But Trump was not finished yet.
At Davos on January 25, Trump announced that not only is Jerusalem the capital of Israel – now Trump was going to take the issue of Jerusalem off the table altogether:
- Trump said he was removing the issue of Jerusalem as a negotiating point: “They never got past Jerusalem. We took it off the table. We don’t have to talk about it anymore” — contrary to what he originally said in December.
- At the same time, Trump made clear removing Jerusalem from the negotiations would eventually require a concession from the Israeli side. He told Netanyahu, “You won one point, and you’ll give up some other points later on in the negotiation — if it ever takes place. I don’t know that it ever will take place.”
- Trump said that the millions the US gives to the Palestinian Authority each year is on the table and would no longer be considered automatic – especially in the face of the Arab refusal to meet with Vice President Pence when he visited Israel.
Then this week, the US became the first country outside of Israel to categorize Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist. The US gave this designation to Hamas members Yahya Sinwar and Muhammad Deif back in September 2015. According to Nathan A. Sales, the State Department coordinator for counterterrorism:
All assets belonging to Haniyeh under US jurisdiction will be frozen. This designation allows us to dry up the sources of funding and kick them out of the international financial system. We don’t want to only stop the bomber, but the person who buys the bombs.
And now it seems that Trump may still not be finished yet.
On Wednesday, The Middle East Forum put out a press release, MEF Welcomes Trump’s Potential UNRWA Reforms:
The Middle East Forum welcomes reports that the Trump administration might “refuse to accept UNRWA’s special status for ‘Palestine refugees,'” and suspend all U.S. government funding of the group.
The Forum has long sought the end of U.S. recognition of fake Palestinian refugees who never lived in what is today Israel, removing a source of irredentism and terrorism.
Has any president ever\ tried to “fix” so much in the Middle East in so short a time?
For that matter, has any president so openly criticized aspects of the Palestinian problem and then actually taken steps to try to address it?
Meanwhile, Abbas is taking some unilateral action of his own.
Abbas wanted renewed support from the EU, by way of European High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini. She obliged, reiterating EU support for both the two-state solution and for Jerusalem as a shared capital – claiming “East Jerusalem” for a Palestinian Arab capital. However, on the other hand, Mogherini made clear the EU was not willing to take over and push for the elimination of a US role in future peace talks.
Abbas also turned to the African nations to take a role in peace talks. Speaking this week at the African Union in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, Abbas called for “an international multilateral mechanism under the umbrella of the United Nations.” If Abbas cannot eliminate a US role, he seems to want at the very least to minimize and dilute it.
The choice of the African nations is interesting.
Israel has been trying to create stronger ties with Africa, requesting observer status within the African Union. Israel was going to send a delegation last October to a conference there to meet with 54 African countries in an Israel-Africa summit. In September, the summit was canceled, apparently at Abbas’s request. In light of the summit cancelation, bringing in the African Union would illustrate that Netanyahu’s efforts to forge alliances there still have a ways to go.
Those who claim to see hints of the weakening and deterioration of the Palestinian Authority in Abbas’s rant in January may be overlooking something. The Palestinian Authority is perpetually deteriorating. After all, Abbas’s term ended back in January 2009, and elections are long overdue. All those Palestinian officials who speak on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, actually have no authority to speak of — and according to the polls, the Palestinian Arabs know this and resent it.
There are those who say that the Palestinian Arabs need to face the consequences of losing a war. Well, what about facing the consequences of losing an election, or of not even having one. Here too, an artificial situation is being propped up by the EU and others in the West.
Trump is clearly intent in removing those props.
It remains to be seen if he will succeed.