Trump’s Mideast Plan Leaves Palestinians With Few Options

JERUSALEM — For Mahmoud Abbas, the ailing octogenarian president of the Palestinian Authority, his life’s work — a viable state side-by-side with Israel — is quickly slipping away.

President Trump’s Middle East plan deprives the Palestinians of nearly everything they had been fighting for: East Jerusalem as their national capital, the removal of Jewish settlements on the West Bank, and territorial contiguity and control over their own borders and security that a sovereign state normally enjoys.

While it was always presumed that such a state would be forged through talks with the Israelis, years of failure, a weak and divided Palestinian leadership, and an Arab world that has largely moved on have all emboldened Mr. Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to try to impose a solution of their own.

The landscape has shifted so much in recent years that Mr. Abbas has few good options.

With only muted reaction from Arab neighbors, a struggling Palestinian economy, little apparent appetite among Palestinians for a violent response and the United States having abandoned any pretense of neutral mediation, a proposal that might have been considered outlandish a decade ago landed with little serious opposition.

Rather than fighting back, some Palestinian activists on Wednesday were saying the best option may be breaking up the Palestinian Authority, leaving Israel to assume the burden of providing for the West Bank’s 2.5 million Palestinians.

Mr. Abbas could decide that this is the moment for dramatic pushback, like walking away from the security cooperation that has long helped protect Israelis from terrorism. He could try to unleash violence to try to draw more global attention.

But if his overriding motive is self-preservation, the safer option would be to try to weather the storm, hoping that Mr. Trump is defeated in November, or Mr. Netanyahu even sooner.

“One guy’s dealing with impeachment, another with an indictment, and Abbas is 85 years old,” said Dimitri Diliani, a 46-year-old member of the Fatah Revolutionary Council who is impatient for the president, who is still 84, to go. “He’s looking for a way to dodge the bullet and stay in power.”

But even if they wanted to, Palestinians only have a limited ability to stand up to an American-Israeli partnership.

Yara Hawari, 31, a scholar and analyst for Al Shabaka, a network of Palestinian analysts, said the Trump plan was becoming a cautionary tale about the diminishing importance of international law when those making the rules are unafraid to exploit their power.

“What happens here can happen elsewhere very easily,” she said. “If you don’t care for the Palestinians, at least care for yourselves.”

The assorted calls for action from Palestinian activists, thinkers and analysts eager to shake up the prevailing inertia sounded like variations on a theme of admitting the failure of the Palestinian Authority to grow into a state.

Some called for the authority to dismantle itself, which would require Israel to take on the costs of health, education, social welfare and policing of West Bank Palestinians, and would remove an entity that they see as camouflaging the occupation’s ugliness.

“We couldn’t have seen 50 presidents and prime ministers in Israel last week if it was revealed as an apartheid state,” said Hamada Jaber, an activist in Ramallah, referring to a Holocaust commemoration in Jerusalem that attracted dozens of world leaders. “It’s still hiding itself behind the P.A.”

But Tareq Baconi, 36, a Palestinian analyst for International Crisis Group, cautioned that any wind-down of the authority should be strategic, not impulsive.

“There needs to be a serious exploration — not another empty threat from the president’s office — of what dismantling the P.A. looks like,” he said. “How will the economy be managed, what kind of resilience infrastructure needs to be built to take its place, and how can security cooperation end without endangering Palestinians or risking instability?”

Mr. Abbas has remained typically opaque, offering little insight into his current thinking. One of the weaknesses and failings of the leadership, said Sari Nusseibeh, 70, the former president of Al Quds University, was “its inability to address the people openly and to present ideas.”

“I don’t know if they are doing any thinking at a deep level,” Mr. Nusseibeh continued, “and Abbas, as people say, is very much a one-man show.”

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