The leadership of Mahmoud Abbas has come under increasing criticism from activists over what they see as a failure by the Palestinian President to push back against the policies of the current Israeli and US administrations. There have been unprecedented setbacks for the Palestinian cause since Donald Trump took office in the US in 2016, yet Abbas has employed a “Wait and See” strategy with regards to Trump, which has fallen flat. Now activists call for a change in tactics from Abbas and other leading Palestinian representatives.
It is possible that Abbas lent some credibility to Trump’s promise of delivering “The Deal of the Century,” believing that it represented a historic chance to end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.
It is possible that Abbas lent some credibility to Trump’s promise of delivering “The Deal of the Century,” believing that it represented a historic chance to end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. Abbas had four meetings with Trump, in which some who were present claim that the US President agreed to work toward a two-state solution based on the pre-1967 borders. (A brief conversation with many of Trump’s former business associates could have taught Abbas not to trust anything from the President that is not in writing.)
However, when the White House announced last year that it would move the US embassy in Israel to the “Eternal Capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem,” it put to bed any hopes that the Trump administration would be an asset in the fight for a Palestinian state with East-Jerusalem as its capital.
At June’s “Peace to Prosperity” economic workshop in Bahrain, it became clear that the most the Palestinians could hope for from the US was some potential economic relief, but not support for an independent state that would meet their demands. Activists argue that it was at that moment, if not before, that Abbas should have acted.
Even by the standards of US administrations, the Trump White House has shown real zeal in its support of Israel’s expansionist goals. Under Trump, the US has cut off all aid to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and to the Palestinian Authority (PA), closed down the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) offices in Washington, cancelled funding to several critical Palestinian security forces, and even removed any reference to the “Palestinian Territories” (the West Bank and Gaza) from the State Department website. Meanwhile, Israel continues to build settlements in those “territories.”
Palestinian activists are growing impatient in the face of the vacuum of opposition from its leadership.
Palestinian activists are growing impatient in the face of the vacuum of opposition from its leadership. As Israel continues to confiscate land and resources from the Palestinian people, the message of such activists is simple—action is better than inaction.
Some activists suggest that Abbas should form a national unity government with all Palestinian groups, including Hamas, that would stand in free and fair elections. Supporters of this controversial position argue that in setting aside his factional agenda, Abbas could garner much support among the Palestinian people at large. Such a national unity government would be in control of both the West Bank and Gaza and would therefore have significant control over the borders that the Palestinian territories share with both Israel and Egypt.
Many hope that under a unified Palestinian leadership, more moderate forces like the PA could dilute the Islamist strain within organizations such as Hamas, endearing the Palestinian cause to the international community as well as leading to political breakthroughs within the Arab world and beyond. However, the fact that the US and Israel are implacably opposed to Palestinian unity of this kind, means that this option remains something of a pipe dream for the time being.
Others even suggest disbanding the PA and the PLO altogether, a risky strategy intended to put a strain on the Israeli state, which would be forced to spend precious resources providing day-to-day services in the West Bank in the absence of those organizations.
While many observers regard such plans as either ill-founded or farfetched, it is the job of leadership to act at times of crisis. According to most, Abbas’s “wait and see” approach is not working for him, nor for the majority of the Palestinian people.