Israel awaits 'pragmatic' Abbas heir, but may be disappointed

Analysis: Latest polls suggest if the Palestinians were to hold elections tomorrow, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh would confidently beat the current president, making Israeli leaders who call for Abbas to be replaced seem out of touch
Israel has pitched the controversial U.S. Middle East peace plan as an offer for a future, "pragmatic" Palestinian leader, saying it was always going to be rejected by president Mahmoud Abbas.
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  • But Israeli officials may be disappointed if they think an Abbas successor will look more favorably on President Donald Trump's deeply controversial terms.
    This week, 84-year-old Abbas, known informally as Abu Mazen, slammed Trump's map of a future Palestinian state as "Swiss cheese".
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    Mahmoud Abbas
    Mahmoud Abbas
    Mahmoud Abbas
    (Photo: AP)
    "Who among you would accept such a state?" he asked the UN Security Council.
    The plan endorses Israeli sovereignty over the hotly disputed city of Jerusalem and greenlights its annexation of key parts of the West Bank.
    In return, the Palestinians would receive $50 billion of investment over the next decade.
    Israeli officials have hailed the plan as "historic", but according to a poll by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR), 94 percent of Palestinians reject it.
    For a start, the plan's vision for Jerusalem as the "indivisible" capital of the Jewish state is unacceptable for Palestinians and Muslims worldwide, as the city is home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque - the third holiest site in Islam after Mecca and Medina.
    The proposal also concedes Israeli annexation of the strategic Jordan Valley and settlements elsewhere in the West Bank.
    The resulting Palestinian state would be demilitarized and cut off from those territories.
    Israel's UN ambassador, Danny Danon, called on Abbas to support the plan. "Even if you have criticisms of specific elements of the plan you must embrace its spirit, this new pragmatic approach to resolve the conflict, but Abbas refuses to be pragmatic," he told the Security Council.
    "He will never be a partner for true peace."
    'The train is running'
    The plan "is not something that was channeled toward Abu Mazen but towards his successor who we don't know yet who he is," Uzi Rabi, director of the Moshe Dayan center on the Middle East at Tel Aviv University, told AFP.
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    אהוד אולמרט מחמוד עבאס אבו מאזן הצהרה תקשורתית ניו יורק
    אהוד אולמרט מחמוד עבאס אבו מאזן הצהרה תקשורתית ניו יורק
    Abbas and Olmert hold joint press conference where the two rejected the U.S. peace plan
    (Photo: AFP)
    "It could be a younger person with a fresh approach."
    With the Palestinians rejecting the plan, Washington has urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to rush towards annexation, fearing it could set the Palestinian territories aflame.
    Seeking to reassure his close ally in the White House whilst keeping settler voters onside ahead of a March general election, Netanyahu said preparations for implementation were underway but required more work.
    "The Israeli team has started, the train is running and the work will be completed," he said.
    Facing trial over corruption, Netanyahu will be fighting for his political life on March 2.
    His main challenger, former army chief Benny Gantz, has also endorsed Trump's plan.
    But Gantz's partner in the centrist Blue and White alliance, Yair Lapid, agreed the plan may only win Palestinian acceptance once Abbas is gone.
    "We may have to wait for the post-Abu Mazen era," said Lapid, tipped as a possible foreign minister if Gantz forms the next government.
    "Instead of policy, instead of putting something of their own on the table, what we have is a grumpy old man who shouts and curses all the time," Lapid told journalists.
    'Nobody more moderate'
    But with the Palestinian public overwhelmingly opposed to the plan, Israelis expecting Abbas's successor to discuss it may be in for a shock.
    Pollster PCPSR said that in a Palestinian election, Abbas would win 44 percent of the vote compared to 49 percent for Ismail Haniyeh, leader of the militant Islamist movement Hamas.
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    איסמאעיל הנייה הגיע לנחם את משפחתו של בהא אבו אל-עטא
    איסמאעיל הנייה הגיע לנחם את משפחתו של בהא אבו אל-עטא
    Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh
    Abbas's Fatah party leads the West Bank, while Hamas rules the Gaza Strip, but is seeking to extend its hold to the West Bank.
    Fatah icon Marwan Barghouti would also be a strong contender - although he is behind bars in Israel, serving a life sentence for his role in terror attacks aimed against Israelis.
    "The Israelis who called for someone more pragmatic than Abbas are delusional," Khalil Shikaki, head of the pollster PCPSR, said.
    "There is no Palestinian leadership that is more pragmatic, more moderate more dovish than Abbas," he said.
    "Every other Palestinian leader will be much tougher."
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