The Palestinian Turn Away from Arab Moderates Could Backfire

October 15, 2020 | Ghaith al-Omari
About the author: Ghaith al-Omari is a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. From 1999 to 2006 he served as an adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team and participated in numerous rounds of negotiation at settings including the 2000 Camp David summit.

Following the announcement that the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain were normalizing their relations with Israel—with tacit Saudi consent—the Palestinian Authority (PA) immediately reached out to Turkey and Qatar, which are aligned against these three Gulf states as well as Egypt. Mahmoud Abbas, the PA president, also has raised the possibility of reconciliation with its rival, Hamas, which is backed by Turkey and Qatar. Ghaith al-Omari explains:

From Ramallah’s perspective, these moves are not intended as a strategic shift. . . . Rather [they] serve two purposes. First, they are meant to signal the PA’s displeasure toward the Arab reaction to the normalization deals, evident in the PA’s threat to align with an alternative axis in an effort to pressure [Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE]. Second, they are a means of creating diplomatic and political motion, ultimately buying time until [the U.S. presidential elections in] November. . . .

In such fraught circumstances, [however]. continued overtures to Ankara and Doha may well prompt Arab leaders to downgrade further their own relations with the PA, leaving its president Mahmoud Abbas with no way back to the fold, and effectively forcing the PA closer to Turkey and Qatar. This situation could be further exacerbated if either Turkey or Qatar uses the Palestinian issue to stoke its rivalries with Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Furthermore, such a shift could weaken the moderating influence of the PA’s traditional allies. Loss of Arab financial support would intensify the economic crisis in the West Bank and lead to more volatility. In addition, reintroducing Hamas to the PA not only will cause the PA’s international isolation, but also could terminate Palestinian-Israeli security cooperation—a key reason for the relative security stability in the West Bank—and raise concerns in Jordan. Israel has already warned the PA about the implications of bringing Hamas back to the West Bank.

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