In a fiery two-hour speech on Sunday where Mahmoud Abbas unloaded on the Trump administration, Israel and Arab partners, the Palestinian president confirmed a report published more than a month ago about back channel peace talks where the U.S. pitched, along with Saudi Arabia, Palestinians should accept the West Bank town of Abu Dis as its future capital.
Addressing the report for the first time over the weekend, Abbas scoffed to his senior officials, “What would you want if Jerusalem were to be lost? Would you want to make a state with Abu Dis as its capital?” He added, “That’s what they are offering us now. Abu Dis.”
Until this breakthrough, little was verified about the particulars of what Trump’s team tasked with negotiations had formulated, other than the plan would be comprehensive and likely include input from Saudi Arabia and Egypt. When Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, alarm bells rang in Ramallah as to whether the administration still sought Palestinian statehood.
Abu Dis is an overpopulated town separated from Jerusalem by Israel’s wall. It is locally known for being an urban area with poor infrastructure, no police presence, and hub for black market trade.
On Monday senior Palestinian officials followed up by passing a series of measures that at face value signify the end to the Oslo Accords peace process that began over two decades ago.
The PLO Central Council declared the Oslo agreements with Israel “no longer stand,” approved an end to security coordination with Israel (which has been announced a few times in the past with limited to no change in the security relationship), and suspended Palestinian recognition of Israel “until it recognizes the State of Palestine on the 1967 borders and revokes the decision to annex East Jerusalem and expand and build settlements.”
Yet, like Abbas’ speech the day before these measure are non-binding. In the Palestinian system of government where the legislature is defunct, the PLO Central Council remains the highest lawmaking body, however, resolutions need approval from President Abbas before they can go into effect. In the past the Central Council has called for similar sweeping changes to the Palestinians’ relationship with Israel, only to never be implemented.
This pattern could repeat itself again, but that does not negate that the Palestinians are increasingly openly displaying their dissatisfaction with the U.S. as an arbitrator to peace.
‘The deal of the century is the slap of the century’
Sunday’s speech showed Abbas is cornered, lacking concrete political actions to keep his agenda afloat. Abbas railed against Trump for biasing peace talks in favor of Israel, “The deal of the century is the slap of the century.”
“We will not accept for the U.S. to be a mediator, because after what they have done to us — a believer shall not be stung twice in the same place,” he said.
Speaking of the U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, Abbas called him “an offensive human being.” Friedman is a former bankruptcy lawyer for Trump who was brought into the administration with a heated Senate confirmation hearing over his longstanding financial support to West Bank settlements. “I will not agree to meet with him anywhere. They requested that I meet him and I refused,” Abbas said of Friedman
Turning his frustrations to the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Abbas continued, “Nikki Haley too. She threatens to hit people who hurt Israel with the heel of her shoe, and the response to her speech will be harsher.”
At one point Abbas stated Arab leaders could “go to hell.”
When discussing Israel, Abbas ramped up his rhetoric calling it a “colonialist project that has nothing to do with Jews.”
“They wanted to bring Jews here from Europe to maintain European interests in the region. They asked Holland, which had the largest navy in the world, to transfer the Jews,” Abbas said, although he stopped short of announcing any policy changes towards Israel. Abbas concluded his talk by re-affirming his position for a two-state solution. He did not officially sever ties with the U.S. In fact, on a policy level there have been no changes from the Palestinians since the Sunday speech, even so, Israel leaders indicated the talk was a turning point.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu posted a video to social media from India where he is on a diplomatic trip:
“I heard what Abu Mazen said. He has revealed the truth. He has torn off the mask and shown to the public the simple truth that I have been working to instill for many long years: The root of the conflict between us and the Palestinians is their steadfast refusal to recognize the Jewish state in any borders whatsoever.”
Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin also expressed disappointment:
“What we heard yesterday from Mahmoud Abbas, was terrible. He returned back to the ideas he expressed decades ago, when they were no less terrible. To say Israel is the result of a Western conspiracy to settle Jews in land belonging to Arab populations? To say that that the Jewish people has no connection with the land of Israel? He forgot many things, and said exactly the things that led him to be accused years ago of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.”