Abbas looks forward to working with Trump, hopes he’ll solve ‘Palestine issue’
At Fatah party congress, PA leader promises statehood in 2017, vows to take case to UN Security Council, won’t recognize Israel as ‘Jewish state’
Dov Lieber is The Times of Israel's Arab affairs correspondent.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas expressed hope that Donald Trump could play a role in ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, despite early indications that the US president-elect might not back a two-state solution.
A day after being reelected as head of Fatah, Abbas’s major policy address at the Seventh Fatah Congress also had him declaring that 2017 would see the creation of a long-awaited Palestinian state and defending his current political strategy of trying to achieve the establishment of a Palestinian state through international diplomacy.
“We look forward to building a positive relationship with the new US president Donald Trump and hope he brings a solution to the Palestine issue,” Abbas said in his three-hour-plus address.
Trump has said he would “love” to resolve the conflict, but messages from advisers have indicated that he doesn’t necessarily see West Bank settlements as illegal or back a two-state solution as the only way forward.
His election has excited some in Israel’s right wing Israel’s, who see it as an opportunity to bolster the West Bank settlement enterprise after decades of international condemnation. It has also led to Palestinian fears that Trump may not be an fair broker in trying to reach a peace agreement.
However, Abbas told the Ramallah crowd they should have patience, as Israel will leave its West Bank settlements eventually, citing another right winger who ended Israeli settlement in the Gaza Strip: Ariel Sharon.
“Sharon left Gaza even though he considered it sacred land,” he said, referring to the 2005 evacuation of the settlements in the Palestinian enclave.
Abbas also repeated a claim he made earlier in the United Nations this year that 2017 will be the “year of the Palestinian state and end of the Israeli occupation.”
He added that his party will strengthen “popular peaceful resistance in all of its spheres.”
Echoing Trump’s pre-election statement that he views Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided eternal capital, Abbas said the next Fatah congress will be held in “East Jerusalem, the eternal capital of Palestine.”
Fatah congresses are meant to be held every four years, though the last one was in 2009 and the one before that in 1996.
The five-day congress, with 1,400 delegates, is expected to discuss whether to seek to introduce a UN Security Council resolution against Israeli settlements.
Abbas, head of Fatah, the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority following Yasser Arafat’s death in 2004, has consistently called for a negotiated solution and opposed another violent uprising.
During the speech, Abbas did not announce any new policies. Instead, he reaffirmed his commitment to the option of negotiating with Israel to achieve a settlement based on the two-state solution, but rejected any deal that would lead to provisional borders for a nascent Palestinian state. He also again expressed his support for the French peace initiative, which seeks an international solution for the Israeli Palestinian conflict. Israel has said it does not support the French initiative and wants direct talks with the Palestinians.
Among much recent talk of backing away from the 1994 Oslo agreement, Abbas surprisingly defended the peace deal, saying it was an “important step” that “paved the way for the return of hundreds of thousands to Palestine.”
To achieve “national reconciliation,” and end “internal division,” Abbas called for the participation of all Palestinian factions, including the Gaza-based terror groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad, to participate in presidential and legislative elections.
Some analysts see the congress as an attempt by Abbas to marginalize political opponents, including longtime rival Mohammed Dahlan, currently in exile in the United Arab Emirates.
Observers have seen the reduced number of officials to vote — down from more than 2,000 in 2009 — as part of a move to exclude Dahlan supporters.
Fatah members associated with Dahlan were not invited to the congress, essentially eliminating their legitimacy and voice within Fatah.
“The biggest impact of the conference happened before the conference even started,” said Grant Rumley, research fellow at the Defense of Democracies Institute.
Rumley said Abbas is seizing the chance to close ranks while “his rivals are at their weakest and he feels little external pressure from the White House to reform internally.”
The election of members of Fatah’s parliament and its central committee will signal the direction the oldest Palestinian party will take.
The congress also comes with Fatah and its Islamist rival Hamas, in power in the Gaza Strip, still deeply divided. Fatah dominates the Palestinian Authority, which runs the West Bank.
However, a letter from exiled Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, in which he said he was “ready to cooperate with Fatah,” was read at the opening of the congress on Tuesday.
Abbas and Mashaal recently met in Qatar for the first time in two years.
During the speech, the 81-year-old Palestinian leader also said he had “full conviction” in his decision to attend the funeral of former Israeli president and peacemaker Shimon Peres, for which he has faced heavy criticism, calling the visit “humanitarian.”
Abbas also stressed the importance of his policy of keeping an open dialogue with all Israelis, a policy which is also heavily criticized.
“We decided to open a dialogue with the Israeli people…We want to say to the Israeli people, all of its sects, that we want peace and your government rejects it,” Abbas said, adding the dialogue leads to “great rewards.”
But he stressed again he “will not recognize a Jewish state,” and said Palestinian recognition of Israel “will not last forever” if Israel does not recognize a Palestinian state.
Two years after the United Nations recognized Palestine as an observer state, Abbas said he would push for full member status in the Security Council.
“We must get it,” he said.
Abbas also reaffirmed his desire to see the Tripartite Committee on Incitement reconvene. The committee was agreed to in the Wye River Agreement of October 1998 and reaffirmed in the 2003 road map for peace. Abbas admitted there was some incitement by Palestinians, but asked why the current Israeli government continues to reject his offer to restart the committee while slamming his government for incitement.
AFP contributed to this report.