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memri
September 27, 2016 No.
1270

Tension Between Mahmoud 'Abbas, Arab Quartet Over Initiative For Internal Reconciliation In Fatah

Introduction

In recent weeks there were numerous reports in the Palestinian, Egyptian and Jordanian media about an Arab initiative for promoting the Palestinian cause, which includes efforts to achieve internal reconciliation in Fatah between Palestinian President Mahmoud 'Abbas, who is also chairman of Fatah and the PLO, and former Fatah central committee member Muhammad Dahlan, and his supporters. The initiative, which is promoted by Egypt, Jordan and the UAE, and to some extent also by Saudi Arabia, was first publicized in May 2016. It is part of a broader initiative by these countries to launch a comprehensive political process in the region that includes: reinstating Muhammad Dahlan, who is a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) and who was expelled from Fatah in 2011, in the Palestinian leadership; affecting a reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas; and achieving a political settlement with Israel. Some writers and commentators suggested that the Arab countries promoting this initiative ultimately want Dahlan to replace 'Abbas as Fatah chairman and PA president. A report that supports this suggestion appeared on the Al-Khaleej Onine website, which quoted a Fatah official as saying that 'Abbas is not interested in running for the presidency again, so Dahlan is entitled to run in these elections just like any other Palestinian.[1]

 
Muhammad Dahlan (left) and Mahmoud 'Abbas (image: Alresalah.ps)

Although Fatah leaders initially seemed willing to cooperate with the initiative for a reconciliation within the movement, a short while later they stated their firm objection to Dahlan returning to the Fatah, and 'Abbas strongly condemned the attempts of Arab countries to intervene in internal Palestinian affairs. This remark sparked unusually harsh responses against 'Abbas in the Egyptian and Jordanian media, and mixed reactions in the PA media.

Several days ago Dahlan announced a plan to hold a convention in Cairo for all the Palestinian factions in order to formulate an agreed-upon political plan. In response, the PA Preventive Security apparatus issued an announcement warning against participation in this conference.  In addition, apparently as a countermeasure to Dahlan's planned convention, 'Abbas announced that Fatah's seventh congress would be held soon.[2]

The following are details about the Arab initiative for reconciliation in Fatah, on 'Abbas's responses to the initiative, and excerpts from responses in the Arab and Palestinian media to 'Abbas's position on this affair.

The Arab Reconciliation Initiative And 'Abbas's Response To It

According to Arab media reports, the first stage of the initiative involves affecting a reconciliation within Fatah, as part of which Dahlan will be restored to his former position as a member of the central committee, and his supporters who were expelled from the movement will be restored to their former statues in it as well. This stage was to be implemented before the Palestinian municipal elections which were originally scheduled for October 8, 2016. According to some reports, Dahlan agreed to this initiative and was even willing to suffice with rejoining Fatah and forgo membership in the central committee.[3]

After attaining an internal reconciliation in Fatah, the four countries (Egypt, Jordan the UAE and Saudi Arabia, henceforth "the Arab Quartet") aim to achieve a reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, and subsequently to promote a political process vis-à-vis Israel that will involve the Arab League, in a bid to reach a comprehensive settlement between Israel, the Palestinians and the Arab countries based on the Arab [Saudi] Peace Initiative and the French initiative for convening an international peace convention.

The Hamas daily Al-Risala, which is strongly opposed to the PA, speculated in the past that the Arab attempts to affect a reconciliation between 'Abbas and Dahlan and to promote Dahlan's status in Fatah and the PA stemmed from the Arab Quartet's preference for Dahlan over 'Abbas, due to the former's pragmatic positions vis-a-vis Israel and his harsh positions on the Muslim Brotherhood movement, whose power the Quartet wishes to curb as much as possible.[4] In recent months there have indeed been some indications that the Quartet is interested in normalization with Israel.[5] This is suggested, inter alia, by articles in the Saudi and Jordanian press,[6] and by articles in the Palestinian media that described the initiative as aimed at preparing the ground for Dahlan succeeding 'Abbas as Fatah chairman and PA president.[7]

Reports that Egypt, Jordan and the UAE were promoting reconciliation between 'Abbas and Dahlan that would lead to Dahlan taking 'Abbas's place as leader of Fatah and the PA appeared as early as May 2016. These reports claimed that the initiative included measures to weaken Hamas and reach a peace settlement with Israel with Arab support. They also claimed that Saudi Arabia was not part of the initiative but was meant to join it at a later stage.[8] It should be noted that earlier in May, Dahlan visited Jordan, and also expressed support for statements made by Egyptian President 'Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sisi in a May 17 speech calling for inter-Palestinian reconciliation and for a political process with Israel.[9] Furthermore, soon after news of the initiative first appeared, sources close to Dahlan reported that he was willing in principle to reconcile with 'Abbas, while elements close to 'Abbas rejected this possibility.[10]

 
Cartoon in Hamas daily on Arab attempts to affect a reconciliation between Dahlan and 'Abbas (Al-Risala, Gaza, May 30, 2016).

In August 2016, one week before the details of the Arab reconciliation initiative were first published, came reports on rapprochement between Fatah's institutions and Dahlan associates. Following its August 22 meeting, Fatah's central committee, of which 'Abbas is the chairman, issued a statement calling for unity within the movement ahead of the municipal elections. Clearly alluding to Dahlan and his supporters, the statement called on Fatah members to transcend personal considerations for the sake of the collective, and stressed that Fatah's institutions were open to all movement members, including those who had complained of sanctions that Fatah had imposed on them.[11] Several days later, the PA daily Al-Ayyam reported that candidate lists submitted by Fatah for the municipal elections in Gaza reflected a merging of the 'Abbas and Dahlan factions.[12]

The central committee statement sparked an immediate positive response from Egypt and Jordan. In a meeting they held in Cairo on August 23, one day after the central committee meeting, Egyptian President Al-Sisi and Jordan's King 'Abdallah II commended 'Abbas's positive response to the call for inter-Palestinian unity and welcomed the central committee's call for former Fatah members to rejoin the movement.[13]

In the days following the publication of the initiative's details, there were further indications that reconciliation attempts were underway. It was reported that five members of Fatah's central committee had met in Cairo with Egyptian, Jordanian, Saudi and UAE officials to discuss the return of Dahlan and his associates to the movement. However, decisions reached in the meeting pertained only to the return of the associates, not of Dahlan himself, and the central committee members clarified that his return was not even up for discussion.[14]

Statements by Fatah members on the issue of reconciliation were also quite reserved. Fatah revolutionary committee member Bilal Al-Natsheh said that Jordan's and Egypt's efforts were advancing the cause of unity but not the cause of Dahlan's return to Fatah. Yahya Rabbah, also a revolutionary committee member and a columnist for the PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, admitted that there were Egyptian efforts to affect Dahlan's return and that 'Abbas was being severely pressured on this issue, but clarified that "Fatah's position on this matter, especially on the case of Dahlan, is fixed and will not change... 'Abbas will not forgo his conditions for reconciliation."[15]         

Following the meeting in Cairo between Fatah central committee members and Arab Quartet officials, Palestinian media reported that the Fatah leadership, headed by 'Abbas, had agreed to the return of 13 Fatah officials who had been expelled from the movement for supporting Dahlan.[16] On September 6, the Fatah court officially announced this decision regarding two of them - Nasser Jum'a and Sufian Abu Zaida.[17]

It should be noted that Fatah's official social media pages made no mention of the reconciliation efforts within the movement, and Dahlan's Facebook page did not refer to them either. However, several Facebook pages supporting Dahlan did report that reconciliation was in the offing, and also posted graphics expressing their support for this, such as the one below.[18]


"Supporters of Muhammad Dahlan" Facebook page: "Long live the leader, the honorable President Mahmoud 'Abbas; long live the senior leader Muhammad Dahlan."

Despite the indications of progress towards a reconciliation with Dahlan, in early September it appeared that 'Abbas had reneged on his intention to do so. In a speech he delivered on September 3, in a meeting in Ramallah with representatives of the special needs community, he bluntly denounced the attempts of external elements to intervene in Palestinian affairs: "We Palestinians refrain from referring to external interventions aimed at [helping us] attain our goals of independence and freedom, out of a desire to maintain good relations with all the world's countries. But [we will not tolerate] any intervention in our internal affairs which must be respected, just as we respect the internal affairs of all countries... Stop poking your fingers [in our business] here and there. All those pulling strings in various places had better sever [these strings], otherwise we will do it for them... This is our homeland, and we should maintain good relations with everyone, but nobody will dictate our decisions. We are the decision makers, and we will decide and implement [the decisions]. Nobody will control us... Enough with [the interference of Arab] capitals, with their money and influence. We want to work as Palestinians." Hinting at Dahlan, 'Abbas said that certain figures were receiving money from certain Arab capitals "in order to influence the Palestinian decisions or circumvent the PA."[19] Reports in the Arab media suggest that the countries he was alluding to were Jordan, Egypt and the UAE.[20]   

Egypt, Jordan Attack 'Abbas For His Statements: He Has Lost His Legitimacy As A Leader

'Abbas's blunt statements in his September 3 speech regarding Arab intervention in internal Palestinian affairs evoked furious responses in Egypt and Jordan, from both officials and the media. The personal attacks on 'Abbas in the media were unusual in their number and their harshness, perhaps reflecting the importance of the Arab Quartet initiative for Egypt and Jordan. According to reports in the Arab media, Jordan demanded that PA officials clarify 'Abbas's statements, and the office of the Jordanian king even sent him a letter of rebuke.[21] 'Abbas's statements also triggered a heated exchange between the Jordanian daily Al-Dustour and the PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, with the former making strident accusations against 'Abbas. In one Al-Dustour article, titled "Why Are They Squabbling over Who Will Succeed President 'Abbas?!", columnist Sufian Al-Shawa expressed puzzlement that anyone would even want to inherit 'Abbas's positions as PA president and Fatah and PLO chairman, while making derisive remarks about 'Abbas's statements, actions and performance. He wrote: "I wish ['Abbas's] position was worth struggling or working for, [but] it is like a white cloud that brings no rain and is [completely] worthless... [In order to govern like 'Abbas you have to] bless the [Jewish] settlers even if they uproot Palestinian olive trees. You are not allowed to ask about the [Palestinian] prisoners, and an intifada is not allowed [either]. [The PA] searches the backpacks of [Palestinian] schoolchildren, and all you have to do is listen to Jewish songs every day.[22] You can overlook corruption here and there and keep the PLC from convening. Even Fatah central committee meetings are [convened] only when necessary, and you can buy a private jet, attend Arab and international conventions, and travel abroad at the Palestinian peoples' expense."[23]

In response to this article, the PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida published a piece by its chief editor that accused Al-Dustour of betraying its status as a national, professional and objective newspaper. Al-Dustour countered with an article by its editor for Arab affairs, which claimed that Al-Dustour is more loyal to the Palestinian cause than Al-Hayat Al-Jadida.[24] Eventually the two papers apparently reconciled, and Sufian Al-Shawa's article was removed from Al-Dustour's website. Later op-eds published by the paper on the Quartet initiative presented 'Abbas's reservations about the pressures exerted on him by the Arab countries, but refrained from attacking him.[25]

In Egypt, following a report on 'Abbas's activity in support of Lebanese politician Jean Obeid, oppositionist MPs slammed 'Abbas using his own words, calling on him to stop intervening in the internal affairs of Arab countries. The secretary-general of the foreign relations committee in the Egyptian parliament, Tareq Al-Khouli,  said that "it would be more appropriate if President 'Abbas devoted all his efforts to resolving the crisis of his occupied state... instead of intervening in the affairs of Arab countries." Similar remarks were made by a member of the parliament's defense and national security committee, Ahmad Al-'Awadi, who said that 'Abbas interfered in the affairs of Syria and Lebanon but was unable resolve the outstanding problems in the Palestinian territories.[26]

 

 
Left: Egyptian MP Ahmad Al-Awadi (image: Albawabhnews.com, August 6, 2016); right: Egyptian MP Tareq Al-Khouli (image: Dotmsr.com, December 8, 2015)

Blunt criticism of 'Abbas was also voiced by Wael Al-Safti, who is responsible for the Palestine file in the Egyptian General Intelligence Directorate. In a conversation with Dahlan, which aired on the Egyptian Mukamilin channel that is close the Muslim Brotherhood and broadcasts from Turkey, Al-Safti and Dahlan  made contemptuous remarks about 'Abbas, and Al-Safti said he "is no longer able to understand, think or concentrate, and all his efforts are devoted to staying in power... Those whom 'Abbas cannot tolerate [react by] adopting radical positions and inclining towards Hamas... He is not able to unite them... He has no political wisdom and nothing to offer."[27]   

In the Egyptian press, 'Abbas's September 3 statements met with mixed responses. Articles published immediately after his speech directed harsh personal attacks at him. However, articles published later in the official press took a softer tone, reflecting Egypt's need for continued cooperation with 'Abbas in order to promote the Quartet initiative and Egypt's interests in general. For example, in the week following 'Abbas's speech, the Al-Yawm Al-Sabi' daily published a series of unusually critical articles attacking 'Abbas's character, his motivations and his actions in handling the Palestinian cause and the relations with the Arab Quartet. Columnist Yousuf Ayyoub wrote: "Mahmoud 'Abbas excels at dancing his political dance on every table. It is difficult to find any absolute loyalty in him, to anyone, not even to the Palestinian Authority he heads. He is absolutely loyal only to himself... In many meetings open to the public, and in many closed meetings as well, we often heard him referring to [various] countries in very blunt political terms - and then two or three days later he visits these countries and courts them... without giving us any clue as to what caused this rapid change in his position towards them: are these political deceptions or financial ones? Abu Mazen [Mahmoud 'Abbas] rejects every attempt to mend the rifts in Palestinian society, using [very] weak pretexts, and he has developed a sort of political dementia. His arrogance towards everyone, including his partners in the PA, is the main characteristic of his behavior. Anyone who disobeys him is expelled...

"Abu Mazen - who on several occasions stressed his support for the French initiative and for the latest efforts by Jordan and Egypt to [compel] Israel to meet its commitment to promote the peace process - was unable to stick to his position, and several days later, on Saturday (September 3), in a meeting with a delegation of the special needs [community], he made [certain] blustering statements... It is strange that Abu Mazen made these remarks after Fatah members held meetings in Cairo in a bid to reunite the Palestinian ranks. This indicates that Mahmoud 'Abbas will not agree to reform the movement that he himself caused to stagnate. He made his blustering remarks in order to stop any attempt of reform, [because] he knows full well that there is no meaning to [his] existence if the structure of Fatah and the PA is reformed. The reports on Arab efforts to affect a reconciliation between him and Dahlan caused him to lose his [mental] balance, or perhaps he lost his mind for other reasons, having to do with his safes [full of money] in Qatar... The Palestinian home is not as important to him as retaining his position as its head, even if this means that the home will collapse over the heads of everyone in it."[28]

In another article several days later, Ayyoub wrote: "In 'Abbas's era the PA became a corpse, after he refused every attempted treatment and every preventive operation, on weak pretexts. ['Abbas] was and remains the main obstacle to achieving [inter-]Palestinian reconciliation... In his era Fatah disintegrated and became weak. When he received it from Abu 'Ammar [Yasser Arafat] it was strong, young and united, but 'Abbas insisted on splitting and fragmenting it."[29]

The daily also published articles by Palestinian figures, including Fatah revolutionary committee 'Adli Sadeq, that harshly criticized 'Abbas's rebuff of the Quartet. The articles claimed that "Abu Mazen does not represent the will of the Palestinian people and has no support base in Palestinian public opinion,"[30] and that he is "a danger to the Palestinian struggle and to the unity of the Palestinians and of Fatah."[31]

Articles published a week after 'Abbas's September 3 speech continued the attack on him. Columnist Ahmad 'Ayyoub wrote that he had undermined pan-Arab responsibility, forgotten the extensive aid that Egypt has extended to the Palestinian cause, and had become a toy in the hands of Qatar.[32] Writing under the title "Abu Mazen Is a President Who Has Lost His Legitimacy," columnist Hussein Yousuf accused that 'Abbas was not promoting the Palestinian cause but cleaving to his seat in order to make profits for himself and his sons' companies. "He has turned Fatah and the PA into a profitable commercial enterprise," he wrote.[33]

Egypt Government Press Comes To 'Abbas's Defense

In contrast to the attacks on 'Abbas in the Al-Yawm Al-Sabi' daily, the official Egyptian daily Al-Ahram was more restrained in its criticism of 'Abbas, and also published some articles in his defense. In an article about the rift between Fatah and Hamas, columnist Farhat Husam Al-Din called on both movements to heed the Egyptian president's initiatives for ending the conflict between them, and made no mention of 'Abbas's statements.[34] In a September 12, 2016 article, columnist Ashraf Abu Al-Houl described 'Abbas's statements as "harmful," but nevertheless defended him and denounced the insulting remarks made against him in the media. He wrote: "I do not know who is behind the vicious smear campaign against the Palestinian president Mahmoud 'Abbas... The man does not deserve the slander and the insults that are being leveled against him, for, simply put, he is a wise patriot and is politically resourceful... As for Abu Mazen's statements regarding Arab intervention in internal Palestinian affairs - [intervention that stems from] the desire of certain Arab capitals to bring about a reconciliation within Fatah and bring back some leaders who were expelled, including prominent leader Dahlan - [I say that] the issue is worth debating, and perhaps the Palestinian president deserved rebuke for what he said. [But it is also] possible that his statements were taken out of context for some reason. I assess that ['Abbas] will agree to an internal reconciliation in Fatah sooner or later, in order to put other [Palestinian politicians] to the test, and let the Palestinian people have its say and elect the leader who will govern and who will mend the damage caused by ['Abbas's] statements."[35]       

An article published in Al-Ahram on September 13, following reports in the Israeli media alleging that 'Abbas had been a KGB agent, likewise came to 'Abbas's defense.[36]

 
Al-Ahram logo

However, it appears that the rage expressed in Egypt and Jordan over 'Abbas's statements did not keep these countries from continuing to promote their initiative. According to Bassam Al-Badarin, head of the Jordan office of the London-based Arabic daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi, Jordan and Egypt made sure to keep open the channels of communication with the PA, in hope of persuading 'Abbas to comply with the Quartet's plan for conducting "an internal Palestinian examination and especially a reconciliation in Fatah" before the municipal elections. Al-Badarin added that gestures made by Jordan and Egypt towards Hamas leaders - specifically the facilitation of Isma'il Haniya's trip to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj, and Jordan's admittance of Khaled Mash'al into its territory - were parts of the efforts to promote the Arab initiative.[37]

'Abbas himself also took some steps to appease the Quartet countries. In an Eid Al-Adha speech, he spoke of "coordination with the Arab brethren" and of "their staunch support for the independence of our decisions to adhere to our principles and attain our national rights."[38] However, in his speech at the Non-Aligned Movement Summit on September 17, 2016, he refrained from mentioning the current Arab reconciliation initiative, and sufficed with saying that the Palestinians were working towards internal reconciliation and towards holding presidential and parliamentary elections.[39]  

Qatari Initiative For Renewing Reconciliation Talks

The Quartet initiative for inter-Palestinian reconciliation, and the conflicts it sparked, also evoked reactions from Qatar, whose relations with Egypt and Saudi Arabia are characterized by tension and rivalry.[40] The Qatari daily Al-Watan reported on Hamas political bureau head Khaled Mash'al's reservations regarding the Arab reconciliation initiative. It quoted him as saying that "smooth hands and external intervention are thwarting Palestinian reconciliation," and that if the Palestinian were permitted to handle their own affairs and national ambitions, they would have been able to resolve their crises.[41] Two days later, in a meeting with Arab ambassadors in the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott, 'Abbas announced that Qatar had offered to host a new reconciliation meeting between Fatah and Hamas, and expressed hope that this meeting would lead to a new reconciliation agreement between the two movements.[42]   According to a September 18 report in Hamas's daily Al-Risala, in early October 2016 a Fatah delegation headed by central committee member 'Azzam Al-Ahmad  is scheduled to meet with Hamas leaders in Doha.[43] It goes without saying that this initiative is in direct competition with the reconciliation initiative of the Arab Quartet.

Mixed Reactions In PA: Palestinians Refuse To Accept Patrons; The Arab Countries Are Acting In Good Faith

'Abbas's criticism of the Arab Quartet met with mixed reactions from Palestinian officials and press. PLO executive committee member Ahmad Al-Majdalani joined 'Abbas's call for Arab countries to stop interfering in the Palestinians' affairs, and confirmed that "the PA was being subjected to pressures, including [as part of] the program of the Arab Quartet whose headline is 'setting Palestinian politics in motion.'" He said that "since the 1970s and following the recognition of the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, we have believed that the Palestinian people must have no patrons. Arab elements must not interfere in our internal agenda, for the age of patronship is over. The Palestinians' independent decision-making must be respected, just as we accept the independent decisions of the Arabs."[44] Other Fatah officials who support 'Abbas made similar remarks, including central committee member 'Azzam Al-Ahmad who spoke against regimes that "intervene using their political or geographical capital," and central committee deputy secretary-general Jibril Al-Rajoub, who said that Gulf money would not bring Dahlan back into the Fatah movement.[45]

Muhammad Yaghi, a columnist for the PA daily Al-Ayyam, also supported 'Abbas and denounced the Arab states' activity: "The troubling aspect is not necessarily the Arab countries' intervention in Palestinian affairs," he said. "After all, the whole world intervenes [in our affairs], from the occupation state through Bulgaria to the U.S. [The problem is] the modest [nature of] the tasks the Arab Quartet has set for itself... Beyond the objective of achieving Palestinian unity, the Quartet [states] could have been expected to have other objectives, no less important - for instance leveraging their close relations with their Western allies to stop the construction in the West Bank settlements, pressure [Israel] to release prisoners, lift the Gaza siege, prevent the Judaization of Jerusalem and bring about [the issuance of] international resolutions for the protection of the Palestinians... We do not demand that they arm the Palestinians. We do not demand that the Quartet states who have [diplomatic] relations with Israel sever those relations, nor do we demand that those Quartet states who do not have official relations with Israel launch a jihad campaign to liberate Palestine... But we do demand that the Quartet's objectives at least be broader than the modest objective they have set for themselves, namely [achieving] Palestinian unity - which, of course, is code for unity within Fatah, not for Fatah-Hamas unity or for establishing a national accord government for both the West Bank and Gaza...

"There are objectives whose achievement is certain, and that once attained would provide the Quartet with a breakthrough, if only in small matters like Palestinian unity. For instance, solving the financial problems of the [Palestinian] universities... paying the salaries of Gaza's public sector workers... investing in Gaza and the West Bank and creating job opportunities for tens of thousands of unemployed [Palestinians]... Nobody wants to anger Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia or the Gulf states. They know this, and they know that none of the potential candidates to succeed 'Abbas within the Fatah movement want strained relations with the Arabs, especially not with the Quartet..."[46]  

Conversely, other Palestinian officials voiced indirect criticism of 'Abbas's statements. Former Palestinian prime minister Ahmad Qurei implicitly criticized 'Abbas in a press statement issued by his office. It said: "We must consider broadening the circle of decision-making and consultation. If I were I charge, I would not want to bear sole responsibility [for making decisions]. Those charged with responsibility need the support of everyone... The position of the Arab states regarding Fatah unity is positive, and I hope they succeed. The Arab states are loyal and passionately committed to [improving] the Palestinian situation, and they are not pleased with this situation. They are trying to act in good faith vis-à-vis the Palestinian cause."[47] Fatah activists close to Dahlan slammed the statements by 'Abbas and his associates and supported the Arab states' activity.[48]

Former PA minister for prisoner affairs, Ashraf Al-'Ajrami, was more direct in his criticism: "There is no reason to doubt the intentions of the Arab states who wish to help the Palestinian people unite its ranks... I am not sure what is going through the minds of some Palestinian leaders who rushed to create a rift with the Arab states, while the Palestinian people are calling on the sister Arab states to intervene and rescue it from the tragic reality in which it lives as a result of the Israeli occupation and the acts of oppression and injustice. It's not clear what we want from our brethren, [who are merely] trying to draw us a roadmap, even if we do disagree [with them] on certain details. It's not our custom to attack the Arab position, which is based on consensus. After all, we have always sought the common ground and tried to formulate an Arab position that suites our [needs]. [But] today we usually do not know what we want, and our leaders are gradually losing the support of the [Palestinian] public. It looks like we will soon lose the support of our brethren [the Arab states] as well, due to our negative attitude towards their positions and out excessive hastiness and rashness. Today we are like people lost in the desert, unable to navigate and find their way out... We were and still are being put to the test, [to see] whether we are worthy and capable of handling our affairs and governing ourselves, should we attain our independence... We have failed in some of the stages, and we must not fail again in such a situation which is seems to be [actually] in our favor."[49]

The editor of the Palestinian news agency Maan, Nasser Al-Laham, stated that the Arab reconciliation initiative had many flaws, but clarified that what drove 'Abbas to reject it was the Quartet's insistence on the reinstatement of Dahlan. "The Arab Quartet," he said, "comprises countries that support the PLO and oppose the Muslim Brotherhood, and at the same time advocate a political solution for the Arab-Israeli conflict that will be acceptable to the PA. From the Quartet's perspective, the Palestinians are [currently] committing suicide. They are helpless, squabbling with each other and endangering themselves, the Palestinian cause and other Arab causes. Perhaps 'Abbas would have accepted [the initiative] had the media not reported that the Quartet wanted nothing but Dahlan's restoration, which ruined everything... The Quartet's plan has many security and political flaws, and it was never presented to Palestinian figures and factions for consultation. It has also been accompanied by weak, confused and haphazard media performance in some countries, including excessive attacks and invective that the PA refuses to accept... We must discard this [aggressive] style and readopt a quiet and respectful discourse that will lead to success."[50]   

Conclusion

The Arab reconciliation initiative seems to be stalled, though it has not perished. The delay stems from two factors: first, the power struggle between 'Abbas and Dahlan and their supporters, aggravated by the fact that Egypt in particular wants a young new leader (Dahlan), and encountered severe opposition from the old leader ('Abbas) who refuses to vacate his place. The second factor is the inter-Arab power struggle between Egypt and Qatar over the Palestinian issue, in which Qatar supports the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, and Egypt supports the PLO and Fatah.

It appears that all sides will now try to soften their positions and prevent an explosion that will harm their standing in the international arena. However, the initiative seems very unlikely to go forward with 'Abbas's blessing, as evident from the recent reports that he supports Qatar's efforts to renew the Fatah-Hamas dialogue, even at the price of angering Egypt  - and all apparently in order to avoid accepting Dahlan back into the Fatah movement.

* B. Shanee and C. Jacob are research fellows at MEMRI.

 

Endnotes:

 

[1] Alkhaleejonline.net, September 1, 2016.

[2] Palinfo.com, September 24, 2016; Al-Ayyam (PA), September 25, 2016.

[3] Alwatanvoice.com, August 29, 2016; eremnews.com, August 28, 2016.

[4] Al-Risala (Gaza), May 30, 2016.

[5] Worth noting in this context is Saudi general Anwar Eshki's visit to Israel in late July 2016.

[6] This refers to an unusual series of articles recently published in Saudi Arabia that praised Jews and condemned antisemitism. See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6574,

Articles In Saudi Press: End The Antisemitic Discourse, Learn From The Jews' Success, August 14, 2016.  The Jordanian articles condemned what they perceived as Jordanian and Arab activity promoting normalization with Israel, especially Jordan's authorization of Israel's participation in its national investment fund, and the kingdom's negotiations with Israel on a possible gas deal.

[7] Al-Ayyam (PA), September 6, 2016; Al-Quds (Jerusalem), September 6, 2016; felesteen.ps, August 29, 2016.

[8] Middleeasteye.net, May 27, 2016.

[9] Amad.ps, May 17, 2016; Al-Quds Al-Arabi, May 19, 2016.

[10] Al-Risala (Gaza), May 30, 2016.

[11] Fatehnews.org, August 25, 2016.

[12] Al-Ayyam (PA), August 30, 2016.

[13] Ara.tv, August 24, 2016.

[14] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), September 1, 2, 2016.

[15] Paltoday.ps, September 2, 2016; similar statements were made by Fatah central committee member Sultan Abu Al-Einein. Al-Quds (Jerusalem), September 1, 2016.

[16] Watan.ps, September 3, 2016.

[17] Al-Hayat (London), September 7, 2016.

[18] See e.g., Facebook.com/groups/1393298150915930, August 28, September 1, September 2, 2016; facebook.com/permalink.php, September 1, 2016.

[19] Wafa.ps, September 3, 2016; Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), September 6, 2016.

[20] Raialyoum.com, September 6, 2016.

[21] Raialyoum.com, September 6, 2016; Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), September 7, 2016.

[22] This is an allusion to 'Abbas's statement in a meeting with Israelis that he listens to Israeli music every day, and to his claim in an interview on Israeli TV that the PA searches the backpacks of schoolchildren in order to prevent stabbing attacks. On the latter statement, see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6377, PA President Mahmoud 'Abbas's Unprecedented Remarks Against Knifings Spark Controversy Among Palestinians, April 7, 2016. 

[23] Al-Dustour (Jordan), September 3, 2016.

[24] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), September 4, 2016; Al-Dustour (Jordan), September 5, 2016.

[25] See for example an article by 'Oraib Al-Rantawi, Al-Dustour (Jordan), September 7, 2016.

[26] Youm7.com, September 10, 2016.

[27] Rassd.com, September 26, 2016.

[28] Youm7.com, September 4, 2016.

[29] Youm7.com, September 7, 2016.

[30] Youm7.com, September 5, 2016.

[31] Youm7.com, September 5, 2016.

[32] Youm7.com, September 11, 2016.

[33] Youm7.com, September 11, 2016.

[34] Al-Ahram (Egypt), September 9, 2016.

[35] Al-Ahram (Egypt), September 12, 2016.

[36] Al-Ahram (Egypt), September 13, 2016.

[37] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), September 7, 2016.

[38] Wafa.ps, September 11, 2016.

[39] Wafa.ps, September 17, 2016.

[40] On recent tensions between Qatar and Egypt, see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6496, Mounting Tension Between Egypt, Qatar Following Sentencing Of Former President Muhammad Mursi, June 29, 2016.

[41] Alwatan.com, September 13, 2016.

[42] Paltoday.ps, September 16, 2016.

[43] Al-Risala (Gaza), September 18, 2016.

[44] Al-Quds (Jerusalem), September 5, 2016.

[45] Amad.ps, September 9, 2016; Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), September 9, 2016.

[46] Al-Ayyam (PA), September 9, 2016.

[47] Amad.ps, September 10, 2016.

[48] Pulpit.alwatanvoice.com, September 13, 2016; amad.ps, September 9, 2016.

[49] Al-Ayyam (PA), September 7, 2016.

[50] Maannews.net, September 6, 2016.