It is far from certain that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will be able to take up his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin’s invitation to attend the World Cup Final in Moscow in mid-July. The news coming from Ramallah about his health is not reassuring.
Circles close to Abbas are tight-lipped about giving away any information about his condition. They are under strict instructions from the security agencies, the president himself, and his sons. Reliable sources say they are by his side, control his agenda and movements, and determine who can visit him and for how long. According to these sources, reports that he is ill and tired, only goes to his office for a short time in the evening, and has regular check-ups at a Ramallah hospital about twice a week, are broadly accurate.
Meanwhile, the senior members of the Fateh’s Movement inner leadership competing in the succession struggle have been holding intensive meetings to monitor developments related the so-called ‘deal of the century’: notably the meetings held in various Arab states by the US president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and aide Jason Greenblatt, the visits paid by Arab leaders to Washington most recently King Abdallah of Jordan, and leaks about plans for a so-called ‘economic peace’. This reportedly entails investing one billion dollars to build a power station, desalination plant and port in Egypt’s Rafah, which adjoins the Gaza Strip, and turn it into a free economic zone. This is supposed to alleviate the ‘humanitarian’ plight of the Gaza’s inhabitants and turn the Strip, in the words of one Fateh Central Committee member, into an ‘independent Palestinian sheikhdom.’
Abbas has not left Ramallah since his latest health crisis. His condition deteriorated sharply, starting with a lung infection (he is a fierce smoker) and followed by an acute coronary attack which took a team of Palestinian doctors more than 24 hours to bring under control. He had been due to go on a tour of Arab states comprising Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia to find out how much they know about the ‘deal’ and what view they take of it. But he cancelled it for two reasons: First, he found that some of these capitals were reluctant to receive him because of his firm boycott of US officials since their country recognised occupied Jerusalem as Israel’s capital; and secondly to avoid any further deterioration in his health on the advice of the doctors monitoring his tests.
It is painful to see the leadership of the PLO and the Palestinian people in a state of political paralysis, isolated regionally and internationally, and playing no active role whatsoever in such sensitive and dangerous times – when conspiracies are being hatched to liquidate the Palestinian cause in accordance with the broad outlines laid down by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – because of the illness of a president and the concentration of all powers in his hands. This are made worse by the current internal Palestinian rift, and the way it has been cynically exploited by the Arab-Israeli-US triad.
There has been growing talk that the Trump administration is willing to make major concessions to Russia over other regional issues, such as recognizing Russian influence in Syria, to secure a trade-off in this regard. This would entail the US halting support for all armed groups in Syria and withdrawing from the country, and giving Russia and its allies a free hand in helping the Syrian state recover control of the south and reopen the border crossing with Jordan, in exchange for facilitating the passage of the ‘deal of the century’.
Putin is leading a bid to use ‘World Cup diplomacy’ to try to end the breach between Abbas and Netanyahu and bring them back to the negotiating table under a Russian umbrella. The wheels may start turning in the coming few days, especially after the visit to Moscow of US National Security Advisor John Bolton, one of the current administration’s fiercest supporters of Netanyahu and his plans for liquidating the Palestinian cause.
If a meeting takes place in Moscow between Abbas and Netanyahu, that would be an important card for Putin to take to the summit meeting he is holding later in Helsinki with Donald Trump, and which Bolton also arranged, where other areas of disagreement between the superpowers such as North Korea, Ukraine, the Syrian war and of course the Iranian nuclear deal could be discussed.
Abbas has surprised many people, ourselves included, by holding fast to his position of boycotting all meetings with US and officials and refusing to take calls from them about the ‘deal of the century’. But questions remain about how long this boycott will last. More importantly, how long will the recent recovery in the condition of his health hold out, and how much will the boycott be adhered to by his would-be successors should, God forbid, anything happen? We know that some of them oppose it and want to resume contacts with Washington on pragmatic grounds, arguing that the Palestinians have to be inside the kitchen to know what is being cooked up – the same defeatist refrain reiterated since the start of the secret Oslo talks.
We wish two things for Abbas. First, that he holds fast to his position of boycotting the US unless it rescinds its support for the annexation of Jerusalem, despite our many doubts. And secondly, that he continues to recover and regains his health in full so he can move on from this position, the boycott, to the more important task of confronting this threat. We have little confidence on this count either, but one can always hope.
Our real bet is on the Palestinian people. They are the only guarantee of foiling all these plans and resisting all those who stand behind them, be they Americans, Arabs or Israelis. They have never fallen short, as their enormous record of sacrifice and resistance over the course of a hundred years testifies.
This deal must not pass, and all those involved in it, in promoting it, and in colluding in plans to push it through and fund it, must be exposed. It is more dangerous than the Balfour Declaration or Sykes-Picot, for it spells, in short, the end of the Palestinian cause and the start of the Israeli Jewish era.