Sunday, July 8, 2018

Arab officials: US peace plan to focus on Gaza ‎first, circumvent PA ‎

Initiative seeks to alleviate the crisis in Gaza while allowing Arab world to adjust to the fact that a comprehensive peace plan may exclude the Palestinian Authority • PA President Abbas "has to wake up before it is too late," Ramallah official says.

Arab officials confirmed to Israel Hayom over the weekend that the regional peace plan being devised by the United States will focus on resolving the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip prior to dealing with the other cardinal issues involved in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who has billed the plan as the "deal of the century," is determined to push it through with the help of the moderate Arab state ‎‎– Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates – even if it means going over Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' head, the officials said.

Abbas declared that he would not engage with the U.S. on peace talks after Trump officially recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital in December and subsequently relocated the American Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The Palestinian leader maintains that these moves clearly demonstrate Trump's pro-Israel bias and therefore the U.S. cannot act as an impartial peace broker between Israel and the Palestinians.

The officials noted that the American plan to solve the crisis in Gaza was also the reason why, despite the growing tensions on the Israel-Gaza border, both Israel and Hamas are trying to avoid escalation.
Senior Arab diplomats familiar with the plan as well as top Ramallah officials, said that Cairo, Amman, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have repeatedly urged Abbas to meet with U.S. officials and discuss the plan but to no avail.

Given Abbas' prolonged rejectionism, moderate Arab leaders see no other choice but to go over his head and have decided to back Washington's plan to present the peace plan to the Palestinian people directly, the diplomats said.

A high-ranking Jordanian diplomat told Israel Hayom that during senior White House adviser Jared Kushner and Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt's recent visit to the region, they explained the tenets of the plan, which focused on "neutralizing the Gaza issue."
Hamas ousted Abbas' Fatah movement from the Gaza Strip in a military coup in 2007, essentially splitting the Palestinian Authority in two. The Western-backed Abbas and Gaza's rulers have signed several reconciliation deals over the past decade, most recently in 2017, but all have collapsed before the ink was even dry, mostly over Hamas' adamant refusal to disarm.

The 2007 coup prompted Israel and Egypt to place a blockade on Gaza, so as to thwart Hamas' efforts to smuggle terrorists and weapons into the enclave. But a decade of Hamas rule has brought Gaza to the brink of disaster, and the ongoing rift between the rival Palestinian factions has also been clouding domestic and foreign policies in moderate Arab states, whose leaders are now pushing for a solution that would alleviate Gazans' distress.

According to Arab diplomats familiar with the details of the plan, the American scheme includes a long-term cease-fire agreement between Israel and the Gaza-based terrorist groups, which would be mediated by the moderate Arab states.

Once the cease-fire agreement takes effect and proves lasting, a series of economic programs will be implemented to improve the situation in Gaza, where unemployment nears 50%. These projects, as well as a series of infrastructural rehabilitation plans – including the construction of a special Palestinian port in Cyprus – will be sponsored by the international community.

"A regional peace plan would be viable only if it includes the changing reality in the Gaza Strip," a senior Jordanian official told Israel Hayom.

"The blockade on Gaza cannot continue. The Strip is on the brink of a humanitarian disaster and if that happens, both Israel and the moderate Arab states would be made to pay a price, and especially the Palestinian leadership.

"Unfortunately, by refusing any diplomatic move mediated by the U.S. and declaring he will boycott the Americans' efforts, Abu Mazen [Abbas] is excluding himself from the negotiations over the arrangements in Gaza," he said.

A senior Egyptian official also confirmed that resolving the Gaza crisis would be the first step in the U.S. peace plan.

"Trump and his people have proven that they can think outside the box and suggest creative solutions. … Abu Mazen and the Palestinian Authority have not ruled Gaza for over a decade and the bottom line is that any deal involving Gaza will ultimately be in the hands of those controlling it on the ground, meaning Hamas," he said, stressing that Cairo would back the U.S. plan even if it meant sidelining Abbas.

Other Arab officials said that the idea behind the "Gaza first" initiative seeks to both alleviate the crisis in the enclave while allowing the Arab world to adjust to the idea that a more comprehensive peace plan would exclude the current leadership in Ramallah.

"This will ease the blockade and allow for the implementation of dozens of projects that have already been approved and funded," one official said.

A senior Palestinian official told Israel Hayom that "there is great concern in the rais' [Abbas'] office over Trump's move. Obviously, neither Trump nor anyone else can make Hamas and the other groups in Gaza disarm, but unless Abu Mazen rethinks his steps he may find himself as irrelevant as [Yasser] Arafat was at the end of his days.

"Trump pursues unconventional diplomacy – something that North Korea and Iran have come to realize – and it seems that the Arab states and the Europeans have come to accept it," he continued. "Only Abbas remains obstinate and the Palestinian people will end up paying the price.

"This is not the leadership Abu Mazen had envisioned and it is definitely not the legacy he wants to leave behind. He has to wake up and come to grips with the plan Trump and the Arab states are promoting, before it is too late," he warned.

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