At a joint press conference on Thursday, Fatah’s Jibril Rajoub and Hamas’s Saleh al-Arouri vowed to work together to resist unilateral Israeli annexation moves and “topple” the Trump administration’s Israeli-Palestinian peace proposal. “We will put in place all necessary measures to ensure national unity,” proclaimed Rajoub in Ramallah, as al-Arouri looked on, via video link, from Beirut. “Today, we want to speak in a single voice.”
Their coordination would open “a new phase that will be a strategic service to our people,” chimed in al-Arouri, adding ominously that Hamas would “use all forms of struggle and resistance against the annexation project.”
Had the bombshell event been organized by an internal opponent to Mahmoud Abbas’s rule, it would have represented an outrageous act of defiance against him.
Here, after all, was one of Abbas’s most senior colleagues, a former PA preventive security chief and potential successor who once worked in close coordination with Israeli security forces, grandly declaring that Fatah was henceforth partnering with Hamas, readying to work in “100 percent harmony” with an Islamist terror organization avowedly committed to the destruction of Israel. An Islamist terror organization, moreover, that 13 years ago brutally forced Abbas’s Fatah out of the Gaza Strip, and would have long since finished him off in the West Bank too were he not protected by Israel’s ongoing overall security presence there.
But Rajoub’s “unity” presentation with al-Arouri — the exiled chief of Hamas’s West Bank terrorist infrastructure, and the man who orchestrated the kidnapping and killings of three Israeli teenagers in the Etzion Bloc south of Jerusalem in 2014 as they headed home from their yeshiva high schools — was not a calculated act of defiance against Abbas.
It was, rather, a stinging blow to the lingering hopes of those on the Zionist left who, in the face of years of contrary evidence, still insistently regard Abbas as a potential peace partner with whom Israel might be able to reach a dependable peace agreement. It was bitter confirmation for the consensus view in Israel, hardened in the course of Abbas’s intransigent stewardship of the PA post-Arafat, that Israel dare not risk relinquishing adjacent territory to the Palestinians under his rule. And it will bolster the positions of those, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who are ready to rule out the prospect of any accord down the road by cementing Israel’s entanglement with the Palestinians via unilateral annexation.
The Fatah-Hamas pledge of partnership declared Thursday by Rajoub and al-Arouri, who has a $5 million US bounty on his head, was approved in advance by the Palestinian Authority president. The joint event was applauded on the day itself by the PA prime minister. And it was shown on both PA and Hamas TV.
The message Abbas was sending — to a watching world but most especially to his own people — was unmistakable: Israel, and any possibility of reconciliation, out; Hamas, and terrorism, in.
There was never any remote chance that Abbas, who chose to walk away from prime minister Ehud Olmert’s 2008 offer of almost everything the Palestinians purportedly seek — including 100% of the West Bank with one-for-one land swaps, and a shared capital in Jerusalem including a stake in the oversight of the Holy Basin — was going to engage with the Trump administration’s “Peace to Prosperity” proposal, with its far less generous, highly conditional framework for a Palestinian state.
Abbas, who warmly hosted President Donald Trump in Bethlehem in May 2017, made his strategy plain when he broke off all contacts with the administration seven months later, after Trump formally recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital — even though the presidential recognition did not specify the dimensions of Israel’s sovereignty in the city, and thus left open the possibility of Palestinian sovereignty here too.
The PA chief has since underlined his rejectionism in all manner of ways, many of them directly self-defeating for his people — routinely inciting against Israeli and denying Jewish history in the Holy Land in order to persuade Palestinians that we have no legitimacy here; diverting foreign assistance to help fund salaries and payments to terrorists and their families; refusing in recent months to accept the tax payments collected by Israel on the PA’s behalf — monies essential to the Palestinian workforce; and perhaps most benightedly, rejecting two consignments of aid from the United Arab Emirates in the battle against COVID-19 because the cargo was flown in via Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport.
Thus when various interlocutors, reportedly including Jordan’s King Abdullah, have urged Abbas in recent weeks to thwart Netanyahu’s unilateral annexation gambit by informing the Americans he was prepared to re-engage, Abbas refused to do so, instead suspending security cooperation and intensifying the PA’s anti-Israel diplomacy. He also submitted a “counter-proposal” to the Middle East Quartet — a forum comprising the US, EU, UN and Russia under whose aegis Israel has always refused to negotiate — for a demilitarized Palestinian state. But any credibility in this counter-proposal, whose full details have not yet been publicized, has now been superseded by his new alliance with Hamas, which has never wavered in its opposition to the very fact of Israel’s existence.
Plainly, the Trump administration can put aside any thought of the Palestinian leadership engaging with its Peace to Prosperity vision, notwithstanding US officials’ intermittent assurances that the proposal’s terms are not final, and that the goal is for the Palestinians to come back to the table, where they could propose changes.
That leaves Israel with the choice between moving ahead with unilateral annexation, or maintaining the status quo — retaining its security oversight in the West Bank without expanding sovereignty, keeping the moral high ground as the would-be peacemaker open to negotiation, and choosing not to close the door on any future opportunity to separate from the millions of Palestinians.
The prime minister has made his choice, and will only be more determined to go ahead with annexation now that Abbas has partnered with Hamas in the effort to deter him. And Abbas has made his choice — not merely rebuffing the Trump administration but overtly realigning the PA and Fatah with terrorism.
We can now expect the US to green light Netanyahu’s annexation plans, and probably sooner rather than later. And we wait to see how much freedom of operation Abbas intends to give to Al-Arouri and his murderous acolytes, or rather how much they will now seize — whether, that is, Israel now faces a new wave of terrorism in and from the West Bank.