The upcoming publication of the U.S. peace plan known as the “deal of the century” has surprised the Palestinians and poses a major challenge to the Palestinian leadership. Some Fatah officials say that it has created a situation situation similar to that of 1947, when the Palestinians had to decide whether they would accept the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine, as expressed in U.N. General Assembly Resolution 181. The Palestinians made the historic mistake of rejecting the partition plan, and their refusal today to discuss the U.S. plan may be a mistake of comparable magnitude.
The Israel Defense Forces has put all its units in the West Bank on alert in preparation for the possibility of unrest following the official publication on Tuesday of the details of the U.S. plan, and is also preparing for escalation along the Gaza border. It is not yet clear how the Palestinians will react, but all factions have already declared Tuesday a “Day of Rage.” Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, who is abroad, has also announced his organization’s willingness to meet with Fatah and other factions in Cairo, Egypt, to ensure the failure of the U.S. plan.
So far, the Palestinian Authority has sufficed with protests, statements and threats in response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s steps in the Israeli-Palestinian sphere, such as the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the transfer of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, U.S. recognition of settlement legality and the cutting of U.S. aid to UNRWA.
Only Hamas took violent measures, dispatching 40,000 Palestinians to attack IDF soldiers at the Gaza border on the day of the U.S. Embassy transfer to Jerusalem, May 14, 2018. The results were very harsh for Palestinians, with 61 dead and 2,700 wounded. The casualties sparked severe criticism against the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip, and having announced a temporary halt to its “Great March of Return,” it is doubtful Hamas will be ready to again employ this fatal tactic.
Experience indicates that even the Palestinian leadership’s political measures in response to Trump’s “pro-Israel” decisions have not been implemented. For instance, the Palestinian Central Council took a series of resolutions on suspending the Oslo Accords and the Paris Agreement, as well as freezing the Palestinian Authority’s security coordination with Israel and disengaging from Israel, but all of these decisions remained on paper only.
What options do the Palestinians have with regard to Trump’s “deal of the century?”
1. Dismantling the P.A.: P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas announced on Sunday that the Palestinian leadership would look into all possible responses to the U.S. plan, including the future of the P.A. However, while Abbas can announce the dissolution of the P.A. and return the administrative “keys” to Israel, the likelihood of that occurring is low. Abbas, 85, is very attached to his power and will not give it up. Abbas built, through his two sons, an economic empire in the territories, turning them into billionaires. Giving up the P.A. would mean the collapse of this empire. Fatah officials also have financial interests and will not allow the dismantling of the P.A.
2. War in the Gaza Strip: Hamas is not interested in a wide military confrontation with Israel, that could lead to the collapse of Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip. The most Hamas can do is a few short rounds of fighting to demonstrate that it is working to destroy the “deal of the century.” The general trend of Hamas has been to move towards an arrangement with Israel, accompanied by a “dribble” of rocket fire to maintain pressure on Israel.
3. A “third intifada” in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem: Abbas’s “popular resistance” strategy has been a massive failure. The possibility of a third intifada exists, but the motivation of West Bank residents to engage in such activity is low given the relatively good economic situation in the West Bank as compared to the Gaza Strip. The rise of another intifada would severely damage the economic situation of West Bank residents. However, Abbas, who also heads Fatah, may try to coordinate mass demonstrations in the West Bank through Fatah’s Tanzim faction, to show that the P.A. will not silently acquiesce to America’s “green light” for Israel to annex the Jordan Valley and parts of Area C.
There may however be spontaneous outbreaks of riots in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem, as well as the resumption of terror attacks by individuals.
The P.A. is in crisis and will have to announce a series of diplomatic steps after learning the details of the U.S. plan. Sources say that the P.A. feels it must respond to show its people it will act against the U.S. ignoring Palestinian “red lines.”
Wassel Abu Yousef, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, said on Sunday that the Palestinians had drafted a strategic plan against the “deal of the century” and that it would be placed on Abbas’s desk immediately following the plan’s official announcement.
The program includes the following steps:
1. Declaring a Palestinian state under Israeli occupation.
2. Appeal to U.N. institutions to accept the state of “Palestine” as a full U.N. member.
3. Appeal to U.N. institutions as well as the International Court of Justice in The Hague to protect Palestinian rights.
4. Enabling “popular resistance” in all its forms.
5. Implementation of the Palestinian Central Council’s decisions regarding the political and security agreements with Israel.
6. An overall boycott of Israel.
Also on Sunday, Ziad Abu Zayyad, the former PLO minister of Jerusalem affairs, called on the Palestinian leadership, not to grant a “gift” to Israel with a clear rejection of the U.S. plan. According to Abu Zayyad, the P.A.’s message should be: “We welcome all the positive elements contained in President Trump’s plan and call on the U.N. and world superpowers, including the United States, to convene a peace conference to develop the Trump program and address the negative aspects through negotiation based on international decisions.”
In all events, it will become clearer over the coming days in what direction the Palestinians in both Gaza and Ramallah are heading.
Yoni Ben-Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as director general and chief editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.
This article was first published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.