In early September, the leading Palestinian political parties held an unprecedented meeting in Beirut and Ramallah. The video conference included the different factions of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as well as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. But what should have been a new beginning for the Palestinian national liberation movement, instead revealed the lack of a strategy or vision forward.
The repetitive speeches from a parade of graying political figures did little to inspire hope that the current Palestinian leadership can challenge Israel's occupation and annexation or its normalisation of ties with the Arab states. While the Palestinian leadership behaves as if time is on its side, the conference demonstrated that it is running out.
Twenty-seven years ago, the PLO and Israel signed the Declaration of Principles (Oslo Accords) on the White House lawn. Like many Palestinian refugees, I watched the elaborate ceremony on television in Lebanon and wondered if my mother and father would finally be able to return to Nazareth and be reunited with their siblings and cousins.
Almost three decades later, we know the answer. Instead of another White House ceremony to announce the creation of an independent Palestinian state and the return of Palestinian refugees, the Trump administration will celebrate this week the establishment of formal diplomatic relations between the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel.
With Washington’s support, Israel has expanded its open and secret relations with the Arab Gulf States. Meanwhile, the Palestinian leadership is recycling failure. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has declared that he wants to resume negotiations with Israel under the auspices of the Quartet – the United States, the European Union, Russia, and the UN Secretary General.
Flogging a dead horse
Created during the second Palestinian intifada by the George W. Bush administration, the Quartet provided diplomatic cover to failed negotiations and strengthened Israel’s occupation. Abbas apparently believes that if the Democratic Party nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden, is elected this will provide a needed boost to negotiations with Israel and reinvigorate the Quartet. But whatever the outcome of the US Presidential election in November, there is little evidence that the Quartet will be more effective in a Biden administration than it was in the past.
Yet it is in the US presidential elections that the Palestinian leadership has again placed its hopes. As a further indication of the absence of vision and strategy, the current Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, Mohammad Shtayyeh, said recently that he hopes a new Biden administration would reverse the decisions made by President Trump. However, Biden has already announced that if elected, he will not rescind Trump’s decision recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Biden has also praised the agreement between the UAE and Israel. Like the Barack Obama administration, where Biden served as vice president, the differences may only be cosmetic. While a Biden administration may adopt less hostile rhetoric toward the Palestinians and the Palestinian Authority, its policies are unlikely to differ from those of the United States for the past 27 years of negotiations under the Oslo Accords or since Israel was created in 1948.
This should not be news to Mahmoud Abbas. Even though his term in office ended in 2009, Abbas has continued to serve as President of the Palestinian Authority without elections or accountability. Biden would be the fourth American President Abbas has placed his faith in.