The PA is right to threaten to withdraw recognition of Israel if the US embassy moves to Jerusalem. If only it could be believed.
By Abdel Bari Atwan
It is good that officials of the Palestinian Authority (PA) are threating to withdraw recognition of Israel if US president-elect Donald Trump goes ahead with his pledge to move the US embassy to occupied Jerusalem.
The problem is that we have heard these officials and their chief, Mahmoud Abbas, make dozens of similar threats in the 12 years since he assumed his current position, and none of them were ever carried out.
It beggars belief believe this latest one will be an exception.
Neither the settlement of hundreds of thousands of Jewish colonizers in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem, nor three murderous wars on the Gaza Strip, not to mention repeated invasions of the al-Aqsa mosque and the takeover of the Ibrahimi mosque or the extrajudicial assassination of scores of young Palestinians, were enough to prompt Abbas and his small circle of confidants to halt — or even merely suspend — security cooperation with Israel.
So will the transfer of the US embassy to Jerusalem lead to the annulment of Palestinian recognition of the occupying state? We somehow doubt it, while very much hoping to be mistaken.
When PA officials make such threats they do not believe them to be serious and know full well they will never be carried out. They think the Palestinian people will quickly forget all about them, or have simply stopped listening because they have become used to them never being followed through. This is because withdrawal of recognition from Israel would mean annulling the Oslo Accords and all associated institutions, agreements and subsequent steps, including the PA itself. All the PLO officials and cadres who returned to the Occupied Territories in line with these Accords would also risk being expelled.
To Abbas’s mind, the survival of the PA is more important than anything else. He and his aides will already have started thinking up for justifications for not carrying out this threat: such as international pressure, the need to safeguard the Palestinian national project which the PA leads, that current conditions in the Arab world and internationally are not conducive to such a step, or any one of a long list of similar excuses which we have heard so often before we have memorized them by heart.
Along with millions of Palestinians in the diaspora and the homeland, we were opposed from the outset to Palestinian recognition of the occupying power in the absence of a just and honourable peace that addresses fundamental Palestinian rights and upholds international law and UN resolutions. This was before anyone had heard of Donald Trump, let alone imagine that he might take over at the White House. So we fully and unhesitatingly support this latest threat issued by the PA. But we, and the entire Palestinian people, have been let down and disappointed so often by the PA that we have lost any trust in it and its promises, and have learned to views its threats with derision and disdain.
Trump will assume the reins of power in the US in a few days time. In the weeks since he made his pledge, what has the PA’s ruling party, Fateh, done to counter it? Did its members — who lavished Abbas with standing ovations and pledges of fealty at the movement’s recent congress —hold a single demonstration in protest? Did the PA make any attempt to mobilize the 150,000 people on its payroll, and the million or so family members reliant on them as breadwinners, to let their opposition to the embassy’s relocation be known to Trump and the entire world?
Fateh Central Committee member Muhammad Eshteyya, who announced the threat to withdraw recognition, is known to be a serious person. He urged all mosques and churches in the Middle East to issue prayer-calls and ring their bells next Friday in rejection of protest at Trump’s proposed move.
But why does he want others to act while the PA itself sits in its offices doing nothing, along with its political party and followers?
We can tell you why does Abbas not want to mobilize the PA or Fateh against the embassy move or see people take to the streets 1in protest. First, he does not want to antagonize Israel and its prime minster Binyamin Netayahu. Second, because he knows the PA would not survive for a single hour after any withdrawal of recognition. And third, because he fears his security men would not be able to control the demonstrators.
The raising of prayer calls and ringing of church bells is a good move, but it will not stop Trump from relocating the embassy. The one thing that could deter him would be an explosion of Palestinian anger in the Occupied Territories against the occupation, and a genuine intifada whose leaders employ all available means to sow fear in the ranks of the occupying power, actually threaten its existence and turn its occupation into an extremely costly undertaking.
But issuing one hollow threat after another will achieve nothing. We are reminded of the children’s fable our mothers used to tell us about the shepherd boy who used to cry ’wolf!’. There are lessons to be learned from that story. But it seems that Abbas and his entourage were listening to other fairy tales and myths.