Following US pressure, Abbas said to shelve UN ‘bombshell’
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Following US pressure, Abbas said to shelve UN ‘bombshell’

John Kerry convinces Palestinian leader to eschew dramatic declarations during his speech Wednesday, former PA minister says

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas meets with a delegation of Muslim and Christian clerics from Jerusalem, September 16, 2015, in the West Bank city of Ramallah (Flash90)
Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas meets with a delegation of Muslim and Christian clerics from Jerusalem, September 16, 2015, in the West Bank city of Ramallah (Flash90)

Despite reports to the contrary, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is unlikely to drop a “bombshell” at his speech in the UN Wednesday, following US administration pressure on the PA leader to avoid making overt threats, a former Palestinian minister said.

Speaking to journalists in Jerusalem Tuesday, Ashraf al-Ajrami, who formerly served as minister of prisoner affairs, said Abbas will probably not call for an end to security coordination with Israel, as previously reported in Palestinian media, but may declare “Palestine” a state under Israeli occupation. The change in tone, Ajrami said, was the result of a conversation between Abbas and US Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday. The top American diplomat made clear to Abbas that the Obama administration would not like to hear him voice overt threats toward Israel.

“I don’t think [Abbas] will drop a bombshell or make a dramatic declaration,” Ajrami said.

Ajrami’s comments coincided with a report by the Palestinian Ma’an news agency on Tuesday, whereby Abbas had introduced changes to his speech at the UN General Assembly following meetings with world leaders in New York. According to a “senior Palestinian source,” rather than announce the annulment of certain articles of the Oslo Accords, including those pertaining to security cooperation with Israel, Abbas is set to demand that Israel respect Palestinian sovereignty in areas A and B of the West Bank, and threaten the cessation of PA coordination with Israel in those areas.

Former Palestinian minister of prisoner affairs Ashraf al-Ajrami, July 8, 2013 (Flash90)
Former Palestinian minister of prisoner affairs Ashraf al-Ajrami, July 8, 2013 (Flash90)

Under the Oslo Accords, signed between Israel and the PLO in 1993, the Palestinian Authority is to exercise full security and administrative sovereignty in area A, encompassing all Palestinian cities, and administrative sovereignty only in area B, which encompasses large villages and predominantly Palestinian rural areas. In reality, the Israeli Defense Forces routinely enters areas B and even A, when security concerns necessitate immediate intervention.

Whether or not Abbas was pressured into amending his speech, the matter is largely one of form rather than content. In minutes of a meeting between Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and Israeli Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories Yoav Mordechai on September 10, leaked by Lebanese daily al-Akhbar earlier this month, the Palestinian assured their Israeli counterpart that Abbas intends “to escalate his rhetoric, not his decisions.” A message to that effect was also conveyed to former Israeli minister Meir Sheetrit during a recent meeting with Abbas.

In his presentation, Ajrami also focused on the political divide within Abbas’s Fatah movement, a schism he said has prevented Abbas from convening the Palestinian National Council and has stalled preparations for Fatah’s seventh convention, scheduled for November.

Mohammad Dahlan — a former security chief in Gaza who has been expelled from Fatah by Abbas and forced into exile in the United Arab Emirates — continues to emerge as Abbas’s most significant political rival, both in Gaza and the West Bank, Ajrami said.

Mohammad Dahlan in 2006 (Michal Fattal/Flash90)
Mohammad Dahlan in 2006 (Michal Fattal/Flash90)

Massive funding from the Emirates funneled through Dahlan to impoverished Palestinians have made the former Gaza strongman far more popular than Abbas in the Palestinian refugee camps across the West Bank and in Lebanon. In Gaza, Ajrami opined, Dahlan is the most popular Palestinian leader.

Time and time again, he noted, Abbas has been unable to convene regional Fatah meetings due to objections by Dahlan supporters. Where such meetings were held, Dahlan’s supporters regularly emerged victorious.

“Dahlan has managed to maintain himself as a key personality in any political process in the future,” Ajrami said. “He probably won’t run for president immediately, but may do so in the future following an interim stage.”

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