On January 1, Abbas will lead Fatah’s anniversary celebrations, enjoying an upsurge in his popularity in the Palestinian street like never before. This is the man, they are saying, who managed to subdue and isolate Trump and enlist nearly the entire world around the Palestinians' right for a capital in Jerusalem.
It’s hard to believe that only about a month and a half ago, Abbas had hit rock bottom. On November 6, he received a surprise invitation to meet with Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman in Riyadh. During the meeting, they revealed to him parts of Trump’s “major plan” for an agreement in the Middle East, under which the capital of the Palestinian state would not be in east Jerusalem but in Abu Dis.
Abbas left the meeting low-spirited. While declaring in public that he and the Saudis were coordinated, deep inside he didn’t know how to deal with the disgrace: How could he market the loss of the capital in east Jerusalem to the Palestinians? Would he go down in history as the leader who had given up a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem?
When he returned to Ramallah, Abbas convened Fatah’s executive committee for a secret meeting, in which he presented the American plan. Later on, his people leaked the rest of the details of the Riyadh conversation to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, who exposed additional parts of the plan last week, claiming it includes a cession of the right of return, a recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and a recognition of parts of the settlements.
The Palestinian Authority leaders were pushed into a corner by the Americans and the Saudis. On December 4, they suffered another blow: The New York Times published leaks from Trump’s plan, which indeed suggested that Abu Dis would be the capital and that the majority of settlements would remain intact.
The Saudis, the Americans and the Palestinians issued sweeping denials that same day. Had the report been confirmed by any official element, Abbas would have lost the little credit he had left on the Palestinian street. And then the miracle happened: On December 6, Trump gave Abbas a “golden ladder” he could never have dreamed of.
The PA leadership, to its credit, quickly regained its composure and understood the advantages hidden in Trump’s declaration, which in actual fact didn’t change the situation and didn’t even imply that east Jerusalem won’t be the Palestinian capital. From this moment, a clear Palestinian strategy was adopted: To market to the world, particularly the Muslim world, the narrative of selling Jerusalem to the Jews. And it worked.
This success was accompanied by a particularly harsh attack on Trump and the American administration, a call to annul the Trump plan, an announcement that the United States could no longer serve as mediator and an emotional appeal to France, China and Russia to replace the US as mediators.
Simultaneously, Abbas got an opportunity to embrace the Qataris and with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, indicating to Egypt and Saudi Arabia that “if you don’t support me, I have alternatives.” The Palestinian show of force reached its climax at the United Nations Security Council and in the General Assembly resolution.
To intensify the PR offensive and enlist the Palestinian street, senior PA officials not only declared a rift with the Americans, but also a renunciation of the Oslo Agreements. The leadership impassioned the street and allowed Hamas to hold shows of force in the West Bank.
But the emergency meeting Abbas held with the Fatah and PLO leaders, which created expectations for a change of policy, ended without any decisions. It was an indication that his real intention isn’t to inflame the situation. He wants clashes controlled by his people, rather than by the Palestinian street, especially not Hamas. The entire recent round of violence was aimed at taking the original American plan off the agenda.
Abbas isn’t alone. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is celebrating too. Behind closed doors, he is likely proposing a toast in honor of Abbas, who created a deep crisis with the Americans which might postpone or cancel Trump’s “deal of the century”—a plan which requires Israel to make concessions too, and these concessions could rock his government.