As part of the "anti-normalization" campaign, Palestinian leaders are putting pressure on Arab countries to boycott a US-sponsored global summit to discuss the Middle East and Iran. According to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (center), the summit will "bring together dozens of countries from all around the world, from Asia, from Africa, from Western Hemisphere countries, Europe too, the Middle East of course." (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Palestinian leaders have recently stepped up their efforts to stop Arab countries from normalizing their relations -- or even signing peace agreements -- with Israel.
The campaign comes against a backdrop of reports about the warming of relations between Israel and some Arab countries, including a recent visit to Oman by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The specter of peace between the Arab countries and Israel has become a nightmare for Palestinian leaders. Instead of worrying about building a better future -- which the Palestinians desperately need -- Palestinian leaders are feverishly working to thwart any attempt to bring the Arab countries closer to Israel.
As part of the "anti-normalization" campaign, the Palestinian leaders in the West Bank are now putting pressure on the Arab countries to boycott a US-sponsored global summit to discuss the Middle East and Iran, which is scheduled for next month in Poland.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a televised interview that the meeting would "focus on Middle East stability and peace and freedom and security here in this region, and that includes an important element of making sure that Iran is not a destabilizing influence."
The meeting, Pompeo said, will "bring together dozens of countries from all around the world, from Asia, from Africa, from Western Hemisphere countries, Europe too, the Middle East of course."
Palestinian leaders are apparently convinced that the upcoming conference is part of a US effort to normalize relations between the Arab countries and Israel. Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas and his senior officials and spokesmen in Ramallah consider anything the US Administration does or says as a "conspiracy designed to liquidate the Palestinian cause and national rights."
Abbas and his Palestinian Authority have been boycotting the US Administration ever since President Donald Trump's December 2017 decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Since then, they have exploited every opportunity to voice their condemnation of Trump's yet-to-be-announced plan for peace in the Middle East, also known as the "deal of the century."
On January 23, Palestinian leaders who met in Ramallah, the de facto West Bank Palestinian capital, rejected the US plan to hold the conference in Poland and also called on the Arab countries not to participate in the conference. They asked instead that that they reaffirm their commitment to the Arab Peace Initiative, a 10-sentence proposal for ending the Arab-Israeli conflict that was endorsed by the Arab League in 2002.
Israel has expressed reservations about the Arab League peace plan, especially the demand to retreat to the indefensible pre-1967 lines with territorial adjustments, including a withdrawal from the Golan Heights, as well as the "right of return" for refugees and their descendants to their former homes in Israel. Flooding Israel with millions of Palestinians will turn the Jews into a minority -- as is presumably the plan.
In other words, the Arab Peace Initiative is actually demanding the creation of two Palestinian states: one in Israel, and another in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been quoted as saying that the only positive part of the plan is the willingness of the Arab nations to achieve peace and normalization with Israel.
The Palestinian leaders did not find time to discuss ways of improving the living conditions of their people. They did not discuss the ongoing "economic and humanitarian crisis" in the Gaza Strip. Those issues never made it onto their list of priorities.
What is dogging Abbas and his Palestinian Authority is the talk of rapprochement between some Arab countries and Israel.
PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat, who has devoted the past two decades of his life to condemning Israel and the US, was one of the first Palestinian leaders to sound the alarm about the US Administration's upcoming conference.
In keeping with the long-standing Palestinian tradition of denouncing everything related to Israel and the US as a "conspiracy," Erekat said that the Poland conference was "aimed at deepening divisions in the region."
Erekat seems particularly worried that some Arab countries will attend the conference and speak on behalf of the Palestinians, or even normalize their relations with Israel. The PLO, he said, is the only party authorized to speak on behalf of the Palestinians in any negotiations pertaining to the Palestinian issue.
Other senior Palestinian officials have gone further by warning Arab countries that any form of normalization with Israel would be considered an act of treason. Abbas Zaki, for instance, a veteran leader of Abbas's ruling Fatah faction, said about the apparent rapprochement between Israel and some Arab countries: "The normalization of some Arab countries with Israel is an act of treason and cowardice." In another statement, Zaki condemned recent visits by some Arabs to Israel as a "deep stabbing of the Palestinian national struggle." The apparent rapprochement between Israel and some Arab countries, he added, was part of a conspiracy to facilitate Israel's control and hegemony over Arab resources.
Mohammed Shtayyeh, another senior Fatah official and former member of the Palestinian negotiating team with Israel, said that the Palestinians were frustrated and saddened by the normalization of relations between the Arabs and Israel. In an interview with the Palestinian Authority's Voice of Palestine radio station, Shtayyeh attributed the apparent rapprochement between Israel and some Arabs to the "state of decline" in the Arab and Islamic countries.
Three Palestinian groups — the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), and Hamas — have also called on the Arabs to resist any attempt by their leaders to make peace with Israel, and said that the time has come to take "serious measures to confront the dangers of normalization with Israel."
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah also joined the chorus, by urging the Arabs to refrain from any form of normalization with Israel. In a speech before an Arab economic conference in Lebanon on January 20, Hamdallah said that Arab normalization with Israel should not happen before the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, with east Jerusalem as its capital, on the pre-1967 lines. He called on all Arab institutions and companies to abide by Arab League instructions to boycott Israel.
It is, at the very least, pure hypocrisy for the Palestinian Authority and its leaders to demand that Arabs boycott Israel when they themselves are speaking and working with Israel. The same Hamdallah who is calling on Arabs to boycott Israel, holds regular meetings with Israeli Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon in Jerusalem. Another Palestinian minister who holds regular meetings with Israeli officials is Hussein al-Sheikh, who is also a senior Fatah official.
The Palestinian strategy is now based on inciting Arabs against their leaders. This is the message that Abbas and his officials are sending to the Arabs: "You need to join us in our campaign to stop Arab leaders from making peace with Israel. You must condemn any leader who seeks normalization with Israel as a traitor."
The Palestinians' "anti-normalization" campaign is also part of their effort to thwart Trump's "deal of the century," which, according to some reports, will call for normalization between the Arabs and Israel. The Palestinians say that they are determined to foil Trump's unseen peace plan and its attempt to normalize relations between the Arab countries and Israel. This, then, is what Palestinian "diplomacy" boils down to these days: foiling peace plans and Israeli-Arab normalization. That is what happens when Mahmoud Abbas and his officials have nothing good to offer their people. It now remains to be seen whether the Arab countries will surrender to the latest campaign of Palestinian incitement and intimidation.
Bassam Tawil, a Muslim Arab, is based in the Middle East.