Abbas Refuses Trump Call as Palestinian Leaders Rage Over Peace Deal

On the streets of Ramallah and Gaza City, however, the public has responded with apathy

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attends the funeral of former senior Fatah official Ahmed Abdel Rahman, in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank December 4, 2019.
MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/ REUTERS

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas refused a phone call with U.S. President Donald Trump Monday regarding the impending release of the Trump administration's peace plan, a senior official in the Abbas' office said. The official added that there were similar attempts made last week to try and coordinate the call.

President Trump is meeting Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his chief political rival Benny Gantz to discuss the details of the 'Deal of the Century' ahead of its expected release Tuesday.

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There is currently no contact between Abbas' office and the White House, and the only mode of communication is the channel between the head of the Palestinian intelligence and the CIA. Another actor who has relayed messages between the sides is Jordan's King Abdullah.   

The impending release of the plan has drawn condemnation from Palestinian leaders in Ramallah and Gaza. Palestinian factions issued a statement Sunday calling for "day of rage" Tuesday, and urged Palestinians to boycott American goods and to remove any symbols of the United States from structures on the West Bank - including signs indicating donations from American foundations.

Saeb Erekat, the secretary general of the PLO Executive Committee, said Sunday that the plan – which will reportedly include extending Israeli sovereignty over all settlements and annexing the Jordan Valley – would spell the end of the two-state solution. “It will open the door [for a policy of] of one person, one vote from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean,” he wrote. 

Palestinian street apathetic

But despite these declarations, veteran Fatah activists in Ramallah, Nablus and Bethlehem expressed skepticism about the feasibility of a popular protest over the Trump plan and did not hide their disappointment with the gloomy atmosphere among Palestinians. “Whoever isn’t seeing or feeling the frustration on the street is either ignoring it or playing dumb,” said a Fatah activist in the Bethlehem area. “There’s an atmosphere of anger and apathy that stems first and foremost from the leadership crisis and the intra-Palestinian division.”

Fatah activists in the West Bank say that the lack of public response indicates people's indifference toward the process and a lack of confidence in the Palestinian leadership.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat speaks at the J Street National Conference, Washington D.C.,  October 28, 2019
Jacquelyn Martin / AP

The apathy among the Palestinian public doesn’t indicate acceptance of the Trump plan, rather the opposite. The Palestinians, however, “feel that the leadership is busy with internal squabbling and isn’t creating the conditions for diplomatic action or popular protest that could have an impact,” he said.

The Palestinian Authority's warnings about halting security coordination with Israel or shirking the Oslo Accords are largely considered to be empty threats.

"Since 2015, we've heard threats that they will stop security coordination, abandon Oslo or take all kinds of steps to pressure Israel and the international community, but everything has stayed the same," said a Fatah activist in Nablus. “Even on economic issues there’s been no real change, so there are no expectations in the field.” According to him, the PA leadership isn’t perceived as the leadership of the Palestinian people. “As far as the street is concerned, no one is ready to sacrifice himself for the PA leadership,” he said.

At the same time, there are those who say the opportunity should be exploited to advance intra-Palestinian reconciliation, given the ongoing frustration over the political and diplomatic schism between the West Bank and Gaza. The head of Hamas’ political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, called Sunday for a meeting with the Fatah leadership in Cairo to discuss a response to the Trump plan.

“If the plan is published in accordance with the details that have been released so far – which we vehemently reject – the Palestinian leadership will announce a series of steps to preserve the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, and Israel will bear responsibility,” he said. “We must be united and focused on the goal of defending our rights and overturning the plan," Haniyeh added.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas gestures as he speaks during a ceremony marking the anniversary of the death of his predecessor Yasser Arafat, in Ramallah, West Bank, November 11, 2019. 
MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/ REUTERS