Palestinian Affairs Expert: Arab countries saying to Palestinians “we want to move on”

August 30, 2020 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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The Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) hosted a webinar with Khaled Abu Toameh, the award-winning Israeli-Arab journalist and Palestinian Affairs correspondent for The Jerusalem Post, to better understand the ramifications of the UAE-Israel normalisation announcement for the Palestinians and the broader Middle East.

Khaled Toameh addresses NSWJBD

“They were caught by surprise,” he said of Palestinian officials upon hearing the announcement. The Palestinian Authority (PA) is outraged by the UAE’s position, despite the fact that it ostensibly halted any Israeli application of sovereignty in the West Bank. “The feeling among the Palestinian leaders is one of betrayal.”

Toameh says the extreme reaction and incitement against the UAE by the PA is backfiring, and that even some of the Palestinian leadership realise things may have gone too far and is trying to tone down the propaganda. “I’ve been following what many people in the United Arab Emirates and other Arab countries have been posting on social media about the Palestinians, accusing the Palestinians of being ungrateful” after decades of financial, political, and even military support.

Worse, in the PA’s view, is that this signifies their cause is no longer central to the Arab world and could lead to other Arab countries following suit. Beyond the regimes of the Arab countries, the PA is worried  “about the indifference in the Arab world towards the agreement. They don’t see Arab masses taking to the streets and protesting, they don’t see a massive campaign, even on social media, against normalisation with Israel,” Toameh points out, including in the West Bank itself. “The Arab countries are now saying to the Palestinians ‘we want to move on.’”

Toameh said that Saudi Arabia following the UAE depends on Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, or MBS, who is very unpredictable. “I personally think that MBS is waiting to see what he can gain out of it,” Toameh argues. “What we are seeing right now is a tactical thing. He’s just testing to see ‘what am I going to get out of it?’”

Palestinian incitement against Israel and Jews at all levels of society, on top of that against Arabs who normalise relations with Israel, further hinders any possibility of peace, Toameh also said. “If you are telling your people that normalisation with Israel is treason, period, what does that mean? It means you, Mahmoud Abbas, you will not be able to go and make peace with Israel.”

“The impression among Palestinians is that both the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza are actually interested in maintaining the status quo,” Toameh says. “The Palestinian Authority’s main goal is to remain in power… in parts of the West Bank, and Hamas also wants to remain in power in Gaza. That’s actually the only strategy they have.”

Even if it were possible to reform the Palestinian leadership, international donors don’t seem interested in doing so, whether in terms of governance, human rights, corruption or incitement, he argued.

“What about Democracy? How come no European country ever goes to the Palestinian Authority and asks them about the parliament?” Toameh asked. He lamented that “The international media prefers not to report about anything that reflects negatively on the Palestinian leadership,” which means there isn’t much pressure from below by people on their governments to hold the PA accountable.

Donors, including Australia, should change this approach, he urged. “If you are funding the Palestinian Authority, you have the right not only to demand that they stop stealing your money. You also have the right to demand that they stop the incitement,” he argues.

Furthermore, on top of the hostility between Fatah and Hamas, who “can’t even agree when the summertime starts,” there are insurmountable cultural and tribal divides among the Palestinians and between Gaza and the West Bank that would make electing legitimate unified leadership almost impossible. “Can anyone from Hebron go and live in Nablus? Find me one person. Can anyone from Nablus move to Hebron?” Unfortunately, “People in the West don’t understand that we are talking about a tribal system,” Toameh argued.

Pouring cold water on the hopes of a more moderate leader succeeding Abbas, Toameh says, “don’t expect whoever succeeds Mahmoud Abbas to be different.” Abbas himself is terrified of the possibility that this deal will mean his nemesis, former PA security official Mohammed Dahlan, will return from the UAE to replace him. “He’s not worried about the economy, he’s not worried about poverty, he’s not worried about soaring unemployment among the Palestinians or coronavirus. His biggest problem right now is ‘Oh my God, is that Mohammed Dahlan going to come here and replace me?’”

However, in  Toameh’s view, Dahlan has been thoroughly discredited by the PA through accusations of corruption, violence and being a stooge of Mossad and other intelligence agencies, so has little chance of being Abbas’ successor.

Despite the PA’s claim to have ended all security cooperation with Israel, Toameh asserted that “There is a very important aspect of security coordination that has not ended, and that is intelligence sharing; that is, the war on terrorism.”

Ominously, however, PA rhetoric has begun sounding like the Iran-led ‘Axis of Resistance’ and the extremist Islamist position of Turkey and Hamas. One could not even rule out, given Abbas’ current isolation from the Arab world, that the PA could seek support or even more from that camp, Abu Toameh said, though that doesn’t mean they would suddenly become a terrorist organisation again.


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