Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas conducted his first diplomatic tour of the year, meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah in Aqaba on Sunday before immediately leaving for Cairo for talks with his Egyptian counterpart, Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, on Monday.
The meetings were aimed at discussing political arrangements with the incoming American administration as well as the regional and international situation.
During the meeting in Aqaba, which also was attended by the 26-year-old Crown Prince Hussein, the king stressed that Amman stands alongside the Palestinians in “obtaining their just and legitimate rights” and establishing their independent state on the June 4, 1967 internationally recognized border with Israel, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
The monarch reaffirmed his country would continue to play its historical and religious role in protecting the Islamic and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, in light of the Hashemite guardianship of the sacred sites.
Moeen al-Taher, a Jordanian political analyst and writer for the Institute for Palestine Studies in Amman, said the aim of the visit was to organize a united Arab stance for dealing with the new American administration of President-elect Joe Biden.
“President Abbas is trying to establish an Arab political position for talking with Biden once he’s in office that includes an understanding with Amman, which has tried during the recent period to reach a middle ground between what Trump offered and Amman’s expectation of the incoming American president,” Taher said.
“I believe Abbas will turn the page on the Arab normalization deals between Bahrain and the UAE with Israel, as he ordered the return of the Palestinian ambassadors to both countries,” he added.
The Palestinian president had recalled both envoys to Ramallah after the Gulf countries signed peace agreements with Israel.
“He [Abbas] is trying to anticipate events in this move toward forming a united Arab position. He and Jordan are committed to this,” Taher said.
Foreign Minister Riad Malki recently said that the Palestinian leadership had reached understandings with Biden’s team, as the latter was informed of the PA’s readiness to return to negotiations with Israel on the basis of the decisions of international law.
Dr. Abdel Nasser al-Najjar, a Palestinian political analyst and a media professor at Al-Quds University, said the visits came about because Jordan and Egypt have a very important and historical role in any Palestinian diplomatic move, past or future.
“This visit comes after diplomatic stagnation, as President Abbas had not initiated any such moves this year because of the coronavirus pandemic; regional developments; and the complete cut of relations with the American administration at all levels,” Najjar said.
Biden’s electoral win brought the Palestinians renewed hope for change, and therefore it is important to reunite the Arab position, he explained. “Palestinians need support after a period of being mired in issues created by the [two] Gulf states’ normalization with Israel.”
The visits are aimed at sending a signal to the Americans, more than the Arabs, that the Palestinian leadership is ready to resume negotiations, but not based on the previous approach, Najjar said. “Not with the Trump approach, which has complicated issues in the region and supported more Israeli settlements,” he said.
He warned that the region is about to explode unless some parties alter their positions, especially the United States.
Najjar acknowledges that the Palestinian issue is not currently Biden and his team’s top priority, but said the fact that communications already have been established provides hope, as the president-elect’s team would never conduct talks with the Palestinians without Biden’s approval.
“Biden now is dealing with major domestic issues that are much more important for him than foreign relations, such as reorganizing the White House after the election and all that entails, for example, Trump’s position [on the presidential transition],” he said.
The Palestinian leadership is examining the situation not only with the Americans but also with the Gulf by returning its ambassadors, he continued.
“Maybe all this is a sign of a new approach by the Palestinians, hopefully, one that will lead to peace in the region,” Najjar said.
Farid Zahran, an Egyptian analyst and politician, said there are regional powers that have been trying to play a bigger part in the relations with Israel and the Americans, at the expense of the Egyptian role, “but I believe this will be a failure, given Cairo’s important role in terms of any settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict in general, or the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in particular.”
Zahran, the director of the Mahrousa Center for Press Services and Information, a Cairo-based civil society institution that has played an important role in working for democracy and civil rights in Egypt, said a turning point had been reached that led the Palestinian leadership, including that of Hamas, despite the group’s dispute with the government in Egypt, to seek to build understandings with Cairo.
“I don’t think Abbas will be the only one to try to reach understandings with Cairo under these circumstances, but also Hamas is trying to do the same. The players on the regional political scene are looking for new arrangements,” he said.
He added that the Palestinians are seeking to reorganize their relationship with the two main regional parties, Jordan and Egypt, given historical and geographic considerations. “Any other regional powers come after that,” he said.
Zahran said the normalization of relations that was achieved in four days between Arab countries and Israel − referring to the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain − cannot measure up to a normalization that had developed over 40 years between Egypt and Israel. “This tells you that Egypt has its own interests as a big country in the region, which will never be dependent on anyone.”
He added: “The prominent peace between Cairo and Israel stands on the fact that Egypt is a great, independent country, and will not tolerate any Israeli hegemonic efforts.”
While it is clear nowadays that Cairo has been resisting this “Israeli hegemony,” it also tries to build relations with powers in conflict with Israel, Zahran said. “Naturally, Cairo will have mutual interests with the Palestinians where, despite issues, Egypt needs to empower the Palestinians,” he added.
Abbas’ meeting with the Egyptian president will focus a convergence of views on what can be asked of the new American administration in the coming period, he explained. “Now there are obvious matters that we all know they will not change, such as moving the embassy to Jerusalem; Biden will not change that.”
Nevertheless, Zahran said that there is a difference between how Democrats and Republicans deal with the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. “Therefore, the Palestinians, in coordination with parties close to it, need to organize their preparations in order to present demands … demands to stop settlements expansion for example, or to revive the two-state solution,” he said.
He added that Abbas’ goals were not different from those of Sisi “in terms of demands and aspirations, as well as what’s possible and what’s not possible.”
On September 25, Abbas called on UN Sec.-Gen. António Guterres to begin practical steps to hold an international peace conference in early 2021, on the basis of the two-state formula, ending the occupation and achieving an independent Palestinian state with its capital in east Jerusalem.
Article written by Dima Abumaria
Reprinted with permission from The Media Line