Palestine’s leadership made a very difficult decision in December 2017. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who is also chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), decided to break off all ties with the US administration. In the 1980s, the PLO yearned for US recognition and communication, but Abbas’ move took them on to the opposite track. The decision of the Trump administration to move the US embassy to Jerusalem forced the Palestinian leader to do the unthinkable.
However, for the sake of preserving whatever is left of the Palestinian aspiration for an independent state, Abbas now needs to make an equally courageous move and reverse that decision.
There is no doubt that what the Palestinian president did was right at the time. In fact, Abbas’ hunch that the embassy move was the forerunner of even worse and more biased decisions proved to be right. Standing in a crowded room of pro-Israel Zionists (both Jewish and Christian) in January, President Donald Trump unveiled a map that showed Palestinian lands, especially in the Jordan Valley, given to Israel in return for patches in the desert made available to the Palestinians.
It is this one-sided American vision that has given the Israelis the opportunity to do something they have not dared to do in 53 years: The April 20 coalition agreement between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his rival Benny Gantz calls for the unilateral annexation of large swaths of Palestinian land. Since this move is based on the Trump plan, the coalition agreement says the annexation — which could be enacted on July 1 — will need the “consent” of the Trump administration.
This is why some Abbas-Trump communication and the end of the self-imposed boycott become necessary. Engaging the Americans at this important time does not in any way mean the acceptance or legitimization of the US vision that is commonly referred to as “the deal of the century.” What the Palestinians will want from Trump is to refrain from granting the Israelis his blessing for a unilateral act that is in violation of international law.
Ever since the end of the Second World War, the international community has opposed the acquisition of land during war. In fact, UN Security Council resolution 242, which has been the basis of all peace agreements in the region, emphasizes in its preamble “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and the need to work for a just and lasting peace in which every state in the area can live in security.” Unilaterally annexing Palestinian land opposes this and international humanitarian law.
The concept of land exchanges in order to facilitate peace had been approved by Palestinians during the 2000 talks at Camp David. At that time, Yasser Arafat accepted the principle of land swaps so long as they were agreed to and were equal in size and quality — neither of which are present in the current Israeli plans.
After the US defunded the UN agency supporting Palestinian refugees and stopped committing funds to Jerusalem’s hospitals and USAID infrastructure programs, the Trump administration last month made a surprise contribution of $5 million to help Palestinians deal with the global coronavirus pandemic. While this grant is only 1 percent of what the White House had already cut, it could be a means for Abbas to break his boycott, thank the US president and the American people for their generosity, and beseech the administration not to bless the radical Israeli plans.
The Gantz-Netanyahu coalition agreement also suggests that, in addition to US consent, the proposed annexation of Palestinian land needs the support of neighboring Arab countries. The agreement stipulates that the two leaders will aim to “preserve the security and strategic interests of the state of Israel, including the need to keep regional stability, keep existing peace agreements and pursue future peace agreements.”
The Palestinians want Trump to refrain from granting the Israelis his blessing for a unilateral act that is in violation of international law.
Both Egypt and Jordan, along with other Arab states, leading European countries, UN experts and more than 220 former Israeli military leaders, have publicly opposed the proposed Israeli annexation. Additionally, almost 130 members of the UK parliament have called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to slap sanctions on Israel if it carries out such an illegal act.
Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner are currently deeply involved in an unprecedented health and economic crisis. Trump is already in election mode, which could greatly cloud his decision-making process. Trying to lobby Washington with an eye on the fall elections, Netanyahu has appealed to Christian Zionist groups to encourage them to press Trump to give his approval to the annexation plan.
It is not clear if ending the Palestinian boycott of Washington or if the stand of Arab and European leaders will succeed in stopping the madness of Israel’s radical settler-influenced policies. Nevertheless, it is important that Abbas, who met Trump and his envoys more than 20 times before this boycott, make an effort to put a stop to this potentially dangerous Israeli move, which would further lessen the chances for peace. If his effort fails, it will be further proof as to who is for a just peace and who is trying to derail it.