RAMALLAH, Occupied West Bank – Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is deeply concerned that major Arab countries will support US efforts to force through a regional peace agreement despite Palestinian objections, officials have told Middle East Eye.
An aide to Abbas said the Palestinian leader had closed the door to any US-brokered proposal but feared Washington would attempt to bypass the Palestinians by putting pressure on Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan to endorse a “regional peace” deal.
US Vice-President Mike Pence is heading to the region on Friday and is slated to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and King Abdullah of Jordan.
But Abbas has said he will not meet Pence in protest over the US declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and its plan to move its embassy in Israel to the contested city.
“What if the Americans ask those who are in desperate need for them to join a regional peace deal? Would they say no?
– Aide to Mahmoud Abbas
“Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman wants to be the King of Saudi Arabia, and he is in desperate need of US support to be crowned and to counter the so-called Iranian threat,” the aide said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“The Egyptian president’s regime is shaking and he is also in desperate need… and King Abdullah of Jordan might be lured by financial incentives as his country suffers huge debts.”
The aide continued: “What if the Americans ask those who are in desperate need for them to join a regional peace deal? Would they say no?”
Palestinian officials said Abbas had been told about the US peace plan, described by US President Donald Trump as the “ultimate deal”, by MbS during Abbas's visits to Riyadh late last year.
'This is just the beginning'
A senior aide to Abbas said: “The Saudi prince told the president that the Americans are planning to give you a recognised state and that’s big.”
“If you get the American recognition of a statehood that by itself is great,” MbS was quoted as saying to Abbas.
He added: “The size of the state can be expanded later on, but this is just the beginning, why don’t you start with it?” according to the aide.
“President Abbas told the crown prince: ‘This is what we already have now and they want to bluff us saying call it a state, when it is in fact not,’” the official said.
MEE has previously reported how MbS put pressure on Abbas to accept Trump's peace proposal, telling him that the US was the "only game in town".
Details of the peace plan have not been made public but sources have suggested it would not include recognising East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state, nor any settlement of the issue of Palestinian refugees' right of return.
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Instead, the fragmented West Bank village of Abu Dis, a suburb of East Jerusalem pressed up against Israel's separation wall, is reported to have been proposed as the capital of a Palestinian state.
Ali Jarbawi, a political scientist at the West Bank's Birzeit University and a former PA minister, said the Palestinians’ concerns were legitimate.
'The peace train will not pass through Ramallah'
“The Americans are planning to have a regional peace deal, and they don’t care if the Palestinians are in or out,” Jarbawi told MEE.
“The US regional peace train is not going to pass through Ramallah, and for the first time, Palestinian consent is not necessary for a regional peace deal.”
He added: “The Arabs have their own agendas, their own interests and it’s clear they are not going to wait for the Palestinians, the signals that come from them say they will go for their interests regardless.
“Some are going after the so-called Arab-Israeli alliance to counter the so-called Iranian threat, others are going for other interests like protecting their shaking regime or getting financial aid and so on and so forth,” he said.
Relations between the PA and the Trump White House have collapsed since the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, which prompted Abbas to state that the Palestinians would no longer recognise the US as a peace mediator.
On Sunday, Abbas reiterated that he would not accept the US as a mediator and called for an internationally-led negotiated peace process.
"We said 'no' to Trump, 'we will not accept your project'," Abbas told a press confernce ahead if a meeting of Palestinian leaders in Ramallah.
Dismissing Trump's pledge to negotiate the "ultimate deal", he added: "The deal of the century is the slap of the century and we will not accept it."