Reding the headlines we see in the press these days, one can be forgiven for thinking a peace deal with Saudi Arabia is a done deal even though things have yet to be finalized. Yes, the peace train has left the Riyadh station, but the Saudis and Americans are going to make us go through a treacherous road until we actually get to board it. No one in the region is losing sleep over the prospect of an Israeli-Saudi peace accord. The Arab rulers may have misgivings and even concerns over what the Israeli government is doing – especially some of its extreme members – but they have not questioned the need to resolve the conflict with Israel and establish peace.
Only the Palestinians are not happy about this development. As far as Hamas is concerned, this doesn’t change a thing. The terrorist group sent a delegation to Saudi Arabia in April after a two-decade boycott by the Saudi family on the group. But Iran has already made its strategic choice by making Iran its partner, and even an ally. In any event, peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia will have no bearing on the “State of Gaza,” where the terrorist group is focused on these days.
As for the Palestinian Authority, that’s a different story. It always relies on the good graces of the US and Israel, and by extension, on the willingness of Arab states to do its bidding in Washington and Jerusalem.
There is no doubt that the PA is under duress, prompting President Mahmoud Abbas to go to meet with a Hamas delegation in the desert under Egyptian auspices. He also met with Hamas leaders in Ankara while visiting with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. During the meetings, he once again floated the idea of forming a national unity government that could help him counter the Saudi momentum. But he is all too aware that such a partnership is akin to having the hangman (Hamas) join forces with the would-be hanged (the PA leadership, which Hamas seeks to hang high up on a tree in Ramallah).
Abbas also paid a visit to Amman, which is also set to lose in the event of a deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia. Jordan could find itself caught in the middle between Riyadh and Jerusalem, with both pressuring it to take a more active role in regional cooperation, which could very well help its citizens but may not help it win over hearts and minds on the Jordanian street. What’s most concerning for Jordan is that it would lose its special status on Temple Mount as the custodian of the holy sites for Islam, which will fall under Riyadh’s domain.
All this is taking place against the backdrop of the Palestinian Authority going through one of its most difficult periods. It is not just that it has lost the support among the Palestinian masses (which it never really had), or that there are growing calls in Israel to have it toppled. The problem is mainly that there are succession battles that could destroy what’s left.
Yes, the era after Abbas has yet to officially begin, but the infighting over what would happen after the 88-year-old man leaves is well underway.
What interests Abbas today is his legacy, and without any real chance of moving forward in the peace process with Israel, he seeks to cement the image that he had remained steadfast by not giving; not even a small concession. That said, he has vowed to remain committed to the peace process with Israel, and among the potential successors there are those who are banking on receiving Israeli backing and seek to maintain the security cooperation with Israel. That is why Israel has continued to protect the PA and to view its continued existence as an Israeli interest. But some more extreme would-be successors are eyeing a more radical approach toward Israel, riding on a ticket of stepping up the confrontation with Israel, hoping this would pave their way to a leadership position.
Regardless of what Abbas is trying to do, he is fighting a losing battle. A Saudi-Israeli deal can be the final nail in the coffin of the Palestinian cause, setting it back 100 years to square one. In other words, it will no longer be about a national struggle for self-determination but about the future of the Arab inhabitants of the Land of Israel.