CAIRO – Well informed Palestinian sources said that President Mahmoud Abbas’s visit to the Qatari capital, Doha, which ended Monday, aimed to ensure “Qatari support” for the Palestinian authority, in the face of increasing Arab pressure, especially from Saudi Arabia and Egypt, pushing the Palestinian president to engage in the new peace momentum created by recent normalisation moves.
The aim of the pressures on the PA, according to analysts, is to see Palestinians negotiate directly with Israel new understandings, which would help open the scope of Arab-Israeli engagement.
Sources revealed that Egypt advised Abbas to be more open to Arab countries that have chosen the new peace track or those that are about to join it and to stop avoiding this process. He was assured that such an open posture would be welcomed by various Arab countries, especially the Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia.
This would mitigate the muted public rejection of Abbas and would give Arab countries a margin of manoeuvre to better defend the Palestinian issue to the administration of US President-elect Joe Biden. It would also put the brakes on the frenetic pace with which Israel is pushing for normalisation with Arab nations with an eye on isolating the Palestinian leadership.
The sources said that Egypt asked the Palestinian president, during his recent visit to Cairo, to show more flexibility and change the impression of hard-line militancy that he projected recently. Egyptians tried to convince Abbas that he has a good opportunity now to break the current stalemate on the Palestinian issue, locally and in the Arab world. Egypt sees that as necessary in order to strike a balance between normalisation and final settlement.
Abbas has recently chosen to bet on Qatar and Turkey and on a rapprochement with Hamas as a reaction to the Trump administration’s decision to go straight to the stage of direct agreements between Israel and Arab countries without waiting for progress on the Palestinian-Israeli track. This occurred after Abbas refused to go along with Trump and his administration’s efforts to revitalise the settlement process according to Washington’s vision of peace.
The Palestinians’ choice put a damper on the relationship between Ramallah and Arab capitals, such as Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, especially since Abbas’s move showed the Palestinian leader to be taking sides in favour of the Turkish-Qatari axis in the latter’s dispute with the Gulf states and Egypt.
Abbas’s visit to Doha, which was not previously scheduled, came on a personal initiative of the Palestinian President, after the administration of President-elect Joe Biden and the new State Department team headed by Antony Blinken ignored his requests to speak with Biden by phone. On top of that, the new US administration seemed to ignore the recent concession offered by the Palestinian Authority as it resumed security coordination with Israel and showed willingness to sit again at the negotiating table, something that it had refused for months.
Palestinian sources in Ramallah say that the Palestinian president wants Qatar to play a supportive role with the new US administration in order to ensure that the Palestinian file is on the top of American priorities. His move shows that, despite his doubts, he continues to believe Doha’s claims that it will be the closest to the Biden administration regionally.
According to the same sources, Abbas wants to test the truth of the reports according to which the new US administration is redefining its expectations from Qatar by limiting it to following up on Islamist currents in all their extremist and moderate expressions, provided that it lifts its hands from many of the region’s crises, including the Palestinian file.
Abbas also wants to restore warmth in the PA’s relationship with Qatar in terms of financial support, after the latter had sent back his messenger to Doha empty-handed twice already.
In a disappointing response to the Palestinian president’s request for financial aid, Doha had asked Hussein al-Sheikh, the civil affairs official in the Palestinian Authority and one of Abbas’s closest aides, to return to security coordination with Israel in order to obtain the tax income funds seized by the Israeli side.
Doha had also urged Hussein al-Sheikh to have the Palestinian Authority immediately approve an Israeli loan at the Authority’s disposal worth 900 million shekels.
The Arab Weekly sources said that Abbas was also seeking to visit Saudi Arabia and the UAE in order to restore balance to his Arab relations and enable him to diversify his options in opening communication channels with the new US administration.
Abbas has yet to receive clear signals from Riyadh and Abu Dhabi welcoming visits he would like to make.
Mohamed Masharqa, director of the Progress Centre for Policies in London, said that Abbas’s visit to Doha strengthens the conviction that the Palestinian leadership is in a state of political confusion and that it has completely lost all sense of direction.
In a statement to The Arab Weekly, Masharqa pointed out that regional and global changes, including the change in the position of the next administration in Washington, require intense activity that begins first with the Palestinian political administration seeing the wisdom of quickly proceeding with legislative and presidential elections, and advancing new initiatives that take in consideration ongoing changes and contribute to encouraging the Biden administration to give priority to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Masharqa called on President Abbas to “restore normalcy in Palestinian relations with all Arab capitals, so that these capitals take his side and help restore the momentum for solutions and settlement mechanisms with the Israeli side.”