memri
July 11, 2022 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1642

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud 'Abbas, Palestinian Officials, Threaten: If Biden Visit Fails To Meet Our Demands, We Will Take Decisions Against Israel, U.S.

July 11, 2022 | By S. Schneidmann and H. Varulkar*
Palestine | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1642

In advance of U.S. President Joe Biden's visit to Israel, to the Palestinian Authority (PA) and to Saudi Arabia, the Palestinian leadership, headed by President Mahmoud 'Abbas, clearly articulated what it expected the visit to yield – namely the fulfilment of a series of commitments they claim Biden made them during his election campaign and since the start of his presidency. Chief of these demands are: the removal of the PLO from the Congress list of terror organizations; the reopening of the PLO representation in Washington, which was shut down by the previous administration; the reopening of the U.S. consulate in East Jerusalem, which served as the U.S. representation to the PA until it was closed upon the Trump administration's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital; the renewal of the U.S. financial aid to the PA, halted in August 2018 by president Trump; exerting significant pressure on Israel to halt what the Palestinian leadership refers to as Israel's unilateral settlement activities in the West Bank, its attempts to change the status quo in East Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa, and the escalation of its actions against the Palestinians; a reiteration of the U.S. commitment to the two-state solution, and serious action towards renewing the negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel.  

These demands were repeatedly stated in meetings and contacts between Palestinian and U.S. officials ahead of Biden's visit, and in Palestinian officials' media statements.[1] According to reports, the atmosphere of these exchanges was tense, after the Americans informed the Palestinians that these moves would not be promoted in the near future. The Palestinian's anger and frustration with the American position caused them to lower their expectations from the visit, and also to threaten that, if the visit fails to produce any breakthrough or create a political horizon, and if none of their demands are met, they will be forced to implement decisions taken by the PLO Central Council in February 2022. These decisions include suspending the PLO's recognition of Israel, revoking all of its agreements with it and halting the security coordination with Israel, among other measures. In one of his speeches, 'Abbas implicitly threatened to take steps against the U.S. as well, noting that he had boycotted the Trump administration in protest of its policy and the so-called Deal of the Century.[2] At the urging of the Americans and apparently of regional elements as well, 'Abbas decided to postpone the implementation of these decisions until after Biden's visit.

This report reviews the expressions of the Palestinian leadership's frustration and its threats to take measures after the visit.

PA Leadership Lowers Expectations Ahead Of The Visit, Threatens To Take Measures After It

Reports from the last month in the Palestinian and Arab media indicate that President 'Abbas and other PA leaders are angry and frustrated following the meetings and contacts they held with the Americans ahead of Biden's visit. These meetings led them to understand that the Biden administration has no intention of quickly meeting their demands or even of placing emphasis on the Palestinian issue, whether due to the opposition of the Israeli government or because other issues are currently at the top of the American agenda, such as the war in Ukraine, the rivalry with Russia and China and the Iranian nuclear program.

Another issue that angered the Palestinian leadership was a report leaked in late May, which stated that, in light of Israel's firm objections, the U.S. administration had revoked its decision to reopen the consulate in East Jerusalem, in favor of alternative gestures: upgrading the Palestinian Affairs Unit at the U.S. embassy in Israel and placing it directly under the authority of the State Department.[3] This leak, as well as the meetings between the sides – which, according to some reports, were "tense" and "angry" – led the Palestinian leadership to lower its expectations from the visit.[4] PLO Executive Committee member 'Azzam Al-Ahmad, for instance, said several days before the visit that he was "not optimistic" about it.[5]

Palestinian Journalists: We Have No Illusions About Or High Hopes For The Visit

Articles in the Palestinian press likewise called to lower expectations regarding the visit. Bassem Barhoum wrote in his column in the PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida that "the Palestinians have no illusions about and no high hopes for this visit." The main objectives of Biden's visit, he said, are to ensure Israel's security and address the global energy crisis and the repercussions of the war in Ukraine. To this end, the Biden administration "seeks to lower the flames of the Palestinian conflict for now,… so as to keep the situation from exploding and preventing the Americans from achieving the aforementioned objectives," he concluded.[6]

'Abd Al-Majid Sweilem, a columnist for the Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam, likewise claimed that the visit was a diplomatic gesture and nothing more, and called not to expect too much from it. In a June 2 column, he wrote: "We seem to be wildly exaggerating [the significance of] the U.S. President's visit to Ramallah… The American administration is not hiding its positions and intentions, and they do not include an intention to adopt a new policy. On the contrary, the American administration openly refuses to [do anything] beyond underscoring the importance of the two-state solution…"[7] In another column two weeks later, he wrote that "the visit to Tel Aviv and Ramallah… is a secondary visit on the periphery of the real objectives of the President's visit… The visit to Ramallah is nothing more than a diplomatic gesture."[8]

Reports: 'Abbas Threatened U.S. Officials That He Would Revoke Palestinian Recognition Of Israel, Agreements With It

The frustration with the U.S. administration's position, following the realization that the visit is not likely to yield a significant political breakthrough and that Biden does not intend to meet the Palestinian demands, prompted Mahmoud 'Abbas to threaten harsh and effective measures, in an attempt to pressure Israel, the U.S. and other international elements to restart the political process.  In messages he conveyed in the recent weeks to the U.S. and to other regional and international elements, 'Abbas threatened to implement decisions taken by the PLO Central Council in February 2022 if the visit fails to create a political horizon and does not lead to the implementation of the Palestinian demands and of Biden's promises. The decisions in question involve suspending the PA's recognition of Israel until the latter recognizes a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders whose capital is East Jerusalem, revoking all the PLO's agreements with Israel, suspending the security coordination with Israel in all its forms, and drafting practical measures for transforming the Palestinian Authority into a sovereign Palestinian state.[9]   

According to reports in the Arab press, in the tense phone conversation between 'Abbas and Blinken in late May, 'Abbas, after realizing that Biden did not intend to meet even one of the Palestinian demands, threatened to take new measures and to implement the Central Council decisions. Blinken, in response, asked him to refrain from taking new steps that could embarrass the U.S. administration ahead of Biden's visit. [10] According to Al-Quds Al-Arabi, 'Abbas voiced similar warnings in his meeting with Barbara Leaf, threatening to implement the Central Council decisions if Biden fulfills none of his commitments. The Americans again responded by urging him not to make any moves that could escalate the situation ahead of the visit.[11]

'Abbas: We Will Take Decisions Against U.S., As We Did In The Past

Recently, the Palestinian threats also began to be voiced in official statements by 'Abbas and the Palestinian leadership, although it appears that the pleas of American and other officials have led 'Abbas to postpone the actual taking of decisions until after Biden's visit. At a June 27 session of the Palestinian government, 'Abbas said that the insistence of the Americans, and especially of Blinken, to repeatedly put off the reopening of the consulate in East Jerusalem had led him to decide on implementing the resolutions of the PLO Central Council. He said: "Things remained complicated, [so] we decided to implement the necessary steps that the Central Council had decided on. [In response], there was a flurry of contacts with us. Barbara Leaf visited us and Israel several times. She said, 'I hope you delay [the implementation of] the decision by 24 hours.' Then she said, 'delay them for a few days, until [after] Biden's visit.' I told her that we had already taken the decisions. [But] the fact is that several elements asked us to wait a while, and eventually I decided to convene the [Fatah] Central Committee and the [PLO] Executive Committee and let them decide. I told [the members of these committees] honestly: 'This is the situation. If you want [to implement] some of the decisions against Israel, you have my consent, and [if you want to implement] all of the decisions against Israel, you have my consent. If you wany [to implement] some of the decisions against the U.S., you have my consent, and if you want [to implement] all of them, you have my consent to that too… They replied: 'Postpone the decision until [after] Biden's visit,' and that is what we did."  'Abbas instructed the PA government to prepare by considering the decisions they wanted to implement and the possible implications for the Palestinian people.      

In addition, apparently in order to demonstrate his seriousness, 'Abbas noted that the PA has already taken and implemented decisions against Israel and the U.S. in the past: "When [then Israeli prime minister Binyamin] Netanyahu decided to install magnetometers at the entrances to Al-Aqsa, we suspended the security coordination. On another occasion we refused to receive the tax transfers [from Israel] because [the Israelis] refused to recognize the UN resolutions and the agreements we had signed with them… When Trump launched the Deal of the Century… we decided to boycott America. Everyone went crazy. How dare we boycott [America?] All contacts with Trump were stopped; we refused to receive anything from him, not even phone calls, for three years. When I attended the UN General Assembly I refused to hold any meetings with the Americans. We kept this up until Trump was ousted…"[12]  

PLO Secretary-General Hussein Al-Sheikh: If The Visit Leaves Us Empty Handed, We Will Be Forced To Implement The Decisions

The threat to implement the Central Council decisions was also made by other Palestinian officials. PLO Secretary-General Hussein Al-Sheikh said on July 6 in statements to the press: "If Biden's visit does not lead to the fulfilment of his commitments, especially [the creation of] a political horizon, it will be a failed visit. Then we will all face a dire situation of hopelessness among the Palestinians… and we will demand that the international community fulfill its responsibility."[13] Al-Sheikh clarified: "The [Palestinian] leadership has approved a series of measures [whose implementation] has been postponed until after the visit of President Joe Biden, at the request of our [Arab] brothers, our [foreign] allies and the U.S. administration. I hope we will not be forced to [implement them]. We hope for a genuine breakthrough, but if the visit leaves us empty-handed, I believe that the Palestinian leadership will have no choice… The Palestinian issue cannot be ignored and its resolution cannot be postponed." [14]

Fatah Central Committee Secretary-General Jibril Al-Rajoub: After The Visit The Palestinian Leadership Will Discuss The Necessary Steps

Fatah Central Committee secretary-general Jibril Al-Rajoub made similar remarks in a July 5 interview on the Al-Sharq channel: "After [Biden's] visit the Palestinian leadership will hold meetings to discuss the steps that need to be taken in the next stage, in light of the fact that the U.S. administration is making no efforts to pressure Israel to stop the policies of settlement, occupation and the undermining of the two-state solution." President 'Abbas, he added, has informed U.S. Secretary of State Blinken that he means to implement a series of decisions taken by the Palestinian institutions if the American position does not change and if Israel continues on the track of refusing to end the occupation. He noted that the Palestinians also feel "some anger" towards the nine Arab countries that are to attend the upcoming Jeddah summit with Biden, a summit that is not expected to address the Palestinian issue. He emphasized, however, that even though Biden's visit is not expected to yield any progress on the Palestinian front, the Palestinians have decided "not to disrupt it."[15]   

PA Daily: If Biden's Visit Fails To End The Political Impasse, We Will Be Left With A Recipe For Violence

The June 26 editorial of the PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida cited an article by former Jordanian foreign minister Marwan Al-Mu'asher and political analyst and human rights activist Zaha Hassan, published recently in the U.S. magazine Foreign Affairs,[16] in which they warned the Biden administration that its policy towards the Palestinians was a recipe for violence. The editorial clarified that, if Biden's visit fails to create a political horizon, the violence will indeed continue: "We hope the American administration understands this reality. We hope it won't let Biden's visit create a recipe for violence, but rather a recipe for peace. This is possible and feasible. President Abu Mazen [Mahmoud 'Abbas] stated this very clearly when he welcomed President Biden's planned visit to Palestine… Reality repeatedly proves that, if no recipe for peace is promoted, the recipe for violence prevails. The danger is that the occupation government and its supporters will continue the various forms of  violence that are part of their policy. Naturally, the recipe for violence produces no winners, and does not allow the interests of any regional element to remain stable and fruitful… The U.S. has no choice but to create an opportunity for peace by adopting a fair [policy of promoting] the UN resolutions. Biden's visit should first of all end the impasse, [so we can] proceed towards resolving [the conflict and returning] to the negotiation table. Otherwise, we will be left with nothing but the recipe for violence!"[17]   

Palestinian Columnist: Without A Political Breakthrough, The Consequences Will Dire Beyond Occupation's Expectations, And The U.S. Will Be Responsible

Fatah Revolutionary Council member and Al-Hayat Al-Jadida columnist Muwaffaq Matar likewise warned that, in the current situation, there are only two options: Biden's visit will either restart the political process, or it will lead to consequences that the Israelis cannot imagine, and the U.S. administration will be responsible for this. He wrote: "The U.S. administration will have to bear the consequences for the fact that we [Palestinians] have only two options, and no third option: either a breakthrough in a peace process based on the UN resolutions – which must begin with practical measures and by exerting pressure on the occupation, settlement and apartheid state, i.e., the state of Israel… – or else the second option, which will [dire] beyond the expectations of the experts and strategic analysts of the Israeli occupation and its supporters…"[18]  

* S Schneidmann is a research fellow at MEMRI; H. Varulkar is director of research at MEMRI.

 

[1] In a phone conversation with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on May 31, 2022, 'Abbas condemned the American silence over Israel's policies and demanded the removal of the PLO from the terror list, the reopening of its representation in Washington and the reopening of the U.S. consulate in East Jerusalem. He stressed that the U.S. administration must "turn its words into actions," rather than suffice with condemning Israel's unilateral moves (Wafa.ps, May 31, 2022).  'Abbas made similar statements in a June 11 meeting with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Barbara Leaf and her deputy Hady 'Amr. (Wafa.ps, June 11, 2022).   

'Abbas again referred to these demands in a June 21 ceremony in Ramallah marking the renewal of the EU's financial aid to the PA, saying: "U.S. President Biden is about to visit us, and I ask him for one thing only: that he keep his promises. I will not present him with any new requests. I will only ask him [to do] some things that he and Secretary of State Blinken promised me they would do… (Wafa.ps, June 21, 2022).  'Abbas made similar remarks one week later, on June 27, at a session of the Palestinian government (Wafa.ps, June 27, 2022).    

Other Palestinian officials reiterated the demands as well. For example, PLO Secretary-General Hussein Al-Sheikh articulated them in a meeting he held with the U.S. delegation headed by Barbara Leaf and Hady 'Amr in preparation for Biden's visit, and again in a July 6 conversation with reporters, in which he described Biden's visit as "a test of the U.S. Administration's seriousness" (Wafa.ps, June 12, 2022; Al-Quds, East Jerusalem, July 6, 2022).

[2] It should be noted that the Palestinian leadership has repeatedly threatened to revoke the agreements with Israel,  using this as a means to pressure Israel and the U.S. to restart the political process on the Palestinians' terms. However, the Palestinian leadership is unlikely to realize this threat, because, without the framework of the relations with Israel, the PA itself will have difficulty functioning.

[3] The report also claimed that Hady 'Amr, the deputy assistant secretary for Israeli and Palestinian affairs in the U.S. Department of State, would be elevated to the role of special envoy to the Palestinians. (Timesofisrael.com, May 29, 2022). It should be noted that, in addition to placing the Palestinian Affairs Unit directly under the authority of Near East Affairs Bureau at the State Department headquarters in Washington, a cosmetic change was made to the unit's social media accounts. On June 9-10, 2022, its name on these accounts was changed from the "Palestinian Affairs Unit" to the "U.S. Office for Palestinian Affairs." However, these accounts still link to the "Palestinian Affairs Unit" page on the website of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. Facebook.com/USPalestinianAffairs, June 9, 2022; twitter.com/uspalaffairs,il.usembassy.gov/palestinian-affairs-unit. June 10, 2022.  .

[4] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), June 1, 2022; Al-Arabi Al-Jadid (London), June 12, 2022; Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), June 13, 26, 2022.

[5] Aa.com.tr, July 7, 2022.

[6] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), June 18, 2022.

[7] Al-Ayyam (PA), June 2, 2022.

[8] Al-Ayyam (PA), June 16, 2022.

[9] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), June 1, 2022, wafa.ps, February 9, 2022.

[10] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), June 1, 2022; Al-Arabi Al-Jadid (London), June 12, 2022.

[11] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), June 26, 2022.

[12] Wafa.ps, June 27, 2022.

[13] This is apparently a reference to the ultimatum voiced by 'Abbas in his speech at the 2021 UN General Assembly, in which he said Israel had one year to withdraw to the 1967 borders, otherwise the Palestinians would revoke their recognition of Israel, appeal to the International Court of Justice on the issue of the legality of the Israeli occupation, and demand a return to a solution based on the 1947 partition plan or even to the one-state solution. Wafa.ps, September 24, 2022.

[14] Al-Quds (East Jerusalem), July 6, 2022.

[15] Asharq.com, July 5, 2022.

[16] Foreignaffairs.com, June 7, 2022.

[17] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), June 26, 2022.

[18] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), July 3, 2022.

Share this Report:

MEMRI
2022 End-Of-Year Campaign