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Meeting with Mahmoud Abbas
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 03 - 01 - 2019

It was a pleasure to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during his visit to Cairo last week. It was not such a pleasure to hear his precise and realistic presentation of the current situation of the Palestinian cause. He made no attempt to understate or put a gloss on the obstacles facing this cause at three levels: the US, Israel and relations with Hamas. Together, they present a bleak picture without a glimmer of hope.
I could not help but to notice that Abbas did not address a fourth level: the Arabs. This dimension, too, has experienced an unprecedented decline in its handling of the Palestinian cause. The most visible manifestation of this is to be seen in the many visits by senior Israeli officials to a number of Arab countries that had once been barred to them. They were welcomed, moreover, by the Israeli national anthem, the “Hatikvah”, which speaks of the Jews' 2,000-year-old dream of returning to the “Land of Zion and Jerusalem”, or what today is occupied Arab territory. Such incomprehensible developments do nothing whatsoever to support the Palestinian cause. In fact, they harm it.
But President Abbas did answer my question about this missing dimension. He said he did not want to offend any Arab brothers and that he abided by the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other countries just as he opposes the intervention of others in Palestinian internal affairs. I explained that the purpose of my question was to understand whether those visits were arranged with the intent to mediate between the Israelis and Palestinians as some Arab officials have claimed. I also asked him outright whether any of those officials had contacted him directly to offer their mediating services. Abbas said that they had not. He pointed out that he was in daily contact with the Israeli leadership due to day-to-day concerns that need to be handled together with the occupation authorities, so he does not need mediation.
As for the peace process, Israel does not want peace to begin with, he said. If it did, it could have it with no need for mediation. The Israelis always tell you that they are ready for peace instantly, but the fact is that peace means the end of Israel, Abbas said. He added that the US does not want peace either. In order to realise peace, all concerned parties have to have the will to achieve it.
In this meeting, to which Abbas had invited a number of journalists and writers with whom he was acquainted and which was also attended by his close adviser, Mahmoud Al-Habash, Abbas related that during his last meeting with US President Donald Trump he asked whether it was true that Trump would accept either the two-state solution or the one-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Trump confirmed that it was true. Abbas explained to the US president that the one-state solution was not viable. Either it would produce an apartheid system, which the Palestinians could not accept, or it would give rise to a truly democratic state in which all citizens were equal, which Israel would not accept. The two-state solution was the only possibility. The Palestinian state would be established within pre-June 1967 borders, with agreed-upon modifications, and its capital would be in Jerusalem. Trump totally agreed, Abbas said. However, barely two weeks later, Trump officially declared his recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and urged other countries to move their embassies from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Then, he halted his country's contributions to UNRWA. He thereby signalled his intent to bury the Palestinian cause entirely.
The Palestinian president told us that he realised that with such a flagrant bias towards Israel the US could never be an honest broker between the two sides and that he therefore severed all communications with Washington. He then spoke at length about Israeli intransigence that obstructs all attempts to reach a settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict. He also addressed Hamas's negative attitudes. That movement, which belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood in word and deed, harms the Palestinian cause, he said. The Palestinian Authority pays the Hamas government in Gaza $96 million a month for nothing. He would have to review this expenditure as well as the $1 million a month for the Legislative Assembly. He stressed that the next legislative elections must include Jerusalem, or he would not hold them.
Responding to a question on the so-called “Deal of the Century”, President Abbas said: “If the West Bank is being subjected to the largest wave of settlement construction since the beginning of the occupation, and if both Israel and the US see Jerusalem as the ‘eternal capital' of Israel, what kind of deal could they possibly want?”
The Palestinian president ended the meeting on a positive note. He spoke of the progress the Palestinian cause has made through its communications with global public opinion as well as with public opinion inside Israel, despite the Israeli government's attempts to obstruct such communications. He related that he had recently met a young Israeli member of the Likud Party and succeeded in convincing him of the justice of the Palestinian cause. The next day the young man was kicked out of the party. He also noted how the BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanctions) movement is gaining ground in Europe and the US.
“The war in Vietnam didn't end because of a Vietnamese military victory but because US public opinion opposed it and demanded a stop to it,” Abbas said. He also cited the example of apartheid in South Africa. “It fell as a consequence of the pressure from world public opinion and from public pressure within South Africa itself,” he said, adding: “The realm of public opinion is now open to the Palestinian cause and it is gaining ground with every passing day.”
It occurred to me, after the meeting with Abbas had ended, that all the obstacles he spoke of were temporary and changeable. Trump will not be in power forever. Nor will Netanyahu. With them gone, Hamas's influence will dwindle and those friendly receptions by Arab leaders of Israeli rulers will end. Or so one hopes, for the sake of the Palestinian cause.


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