Arabs advising Abbas to accept Trump peace plan or risk losing out — report

Arab diplomat tells Egyptian newspaper that Palestinians should take what they can now rather than reject proposal out of hand and see settlements grow unfettered

Khaled Abu Toameh is the Palestinian Affairs correspondent for The Times of Israel

Jordan's King Abdullah II (right), meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and their delegations at the Royal Palace, in Amman, Jordan, January 29, 2018. (Khalil Mazraawi, Pool via AP)
Jordan's King Abdullah II (right), meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and their delegations at the Royal Palace, in Amman, Jordan, January 29, 2018. (Khalil Mazraawi, Pool via AP)

A number of Arab countries have advised Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to accept whatever US President Donald Trump proposes in the context of his long-awaited Middle East peace plan, according to a Thursday report.

The report in the the privately-owned Egyptian newspaper Al Shorouk cited an Arab diplomat in Cairo, who warned that the Palestinians may in the future “regret” not having accepted what they consider today to be too little.

One key Arab country relayed a message to Abbas which stated that “a realistic reading of the situation makes it imperative that the Arabs and Palestinians accept whatever is available,” the diplomat told the paper.  The paper described the unnamed diplomat as a “prominent” figure.

“Wisdom requires accepting the maximum of what is available now,” the diplomat was quoted as saying. “The dealing should be in accordance with the logic of ‘take and negotiate’ so that we won’t be surprised after a few years that the monster of settlements has devoured the Palestinian territories.”

The diplomat did not reveal the names of the Arab countries that had reportedly relayed the advice to Abbas, who has consistently rebuffed the nascent US peace plan.

American Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley (center), Jared Kushner (left) and Jason Greenblatt (right) listen as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a Security Council meeting on the situation in Palestine, February 20, 2018, at UN headquarters. (AP/Mary Altaffer)

The US administration is expected to announce the main points of its peace plan in the coming weeks, the Egyptian newspaper said. Administration officials have said the plan is close to being finished, but have also refused to give a timeline for when it might be published.

Abbas has denounced the purported plan as the “slap of the century” — a reference to the phrase “deal of the century” used by Trump himself to describe his peace initiative. Furious over the US decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move its embassy there, Ramallah has blackballed negotiators Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, and has pushed for a multilateral peace effort that sidelines Washington.

Abbas is reported to have told member of his ruling Fatah faction last week that he does not intend to end his life as a “traitor,” in apparent reference to the peace plan.

Abbas, according to the Egyptian paper, told some of the Arab leaders he had met or contacted lately that he fears that he would be accused of treason if he accepted what Israel was offering the Palestinians.

However, one of the Arab leaders rejected Abbas’s argument, saying the time has come to “prepare Arab public opinion for the new phase, away from charges of treason,” the Arab diplomat added.

Palestinian Authority President President Mahmoud Abbas attends a meeting with the Revolutionary Council of the ruling Fatah party in the West Bank city of Ramallah, March 1, 2018. (AFP/Abbas Momani)

The officials of one Arab country, the diplomat said, told Abbas that there was no way the Palestinians would be able to “resist Israel’s hardline position on certain issues, such as its insistence on the presence of Israeli military forces along the border between Israel and Jordan out of fear that extremist groups would infiltrate the border and reach the outskirts of the Galilee and Jerusalem.”

According to the report, the Arab country that relayed this message to Abbas “demonstrated understanding for the Israeli demand” to maintain security control over the Israel-Jordan border.

The Americans, according to the report, have notified some Arab capitals that Trump’s decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was “part of an American effort to persuade Israel, especially the hardliners, to agree to possible concessions to the Palestinians.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and US President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House, March 5, 2018 (Haim Tzach/GPO)

Trump has repeatedly said Israel will have to “pay a price” for the recognition of Jerusalem, though he has not detailed what concessions are expected. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters after meeting Trump this week that the issue had never come up between them.

At least one Arab country made it clear to the Americans that the Arabs would not accept any peace plan that does not recognize East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state, the report said.

A senior Hamas official told the newspaper that the Egyptians have assured the terror group that Cairo would not accept any plan that does not call for the establishment of a Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem as its capital, “on the 1967 borders.”

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh (right), meets with Egyptian Intelligence Minister Khalid Fawzi at the former’s office in Gaza City on October 3, 2017. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)

The Egyptians also affirmed their “commitment to the right of return” for Palestinian refugees and their descendants to their former homes inside Israel, according to the Hamas official.

Last month, a senior Hamas delegation headed by Ismail Haniyeh spent three weeks in Cairo, where its members held talks with Egyptian government officials on a number of issues, including the floundering reconciliation agreement with Abbas’s Fatah movement and ways of enhancing security measures along the border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip.

The Hamas official quoted the Egyptians as saying that Cairo was strongly opposed to the idea of “settling Palestinians in Sinai.”

The Egyptian stance came in response to unconfirmed reports in some Arab media outlets that claimed that Trump’s peace plan includes transferring parts of Sinai to the future Palestinian state.

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