Nov 24 2011

The King and Palestine

Published by at 11:45 am under Articles,Jordan,Palestinian politics

By Daoud Kuttab

 “Ziara azima” (fabulous visit). This was the description Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas gave to the unexpected visit King Abdullah made to the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah.

The King’s visit on Monday was the first to Palestine in a decade. He didn’t visit or meet any Israeli official.

It is not that the King and Abbas do not see each other. Almost every time that the PLO leader leaves Ramallah to travel abroad he makes a stop to visit his “brother”, King Abdullah. However, what makes this particular visit important is its public nature.

The King wanted everyone, especially the Israelis, to notice the visit and the solidarity message behind it. Palestinians warmly welcomed the visit, which received live coverage on Palestine TV and was the lead story in all three daily newspapers.

Over the past years, and due in part to the fact that Israel has closed all borders for Palestinians, except the King Hussein Bridge to Jordan, Palestinian-Jordanian relations have warmed up considerably.

The Jordanian-Hamas relation was the focus of many commentaries following King Abdullah’s visit. Pundits explained that the Monarch wanted to reassure his Palestinian counterpart that any Jordanian-Hamas rapprochement will not be at the expense of Jordan’s recognition of the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.

The importance of the timing of this visit cannot be understated. It comes days before a crucial summit meeting between Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Mishaal and before the expected visit by the Hamas leader to Jordan.

Relations between moderate Arab regimes and the Muslim Brotherhood must have also been on the agenda of discussions. The rise of Islamists, post-revolution, in many countries cannot be ignored. Victories in recent elections in Tunisia and the nature of the new power in Libya, as well as the leading Islamist forces in Egypt and Syria made it impossible to ignore these groups that used to be declared illegal in many Arab countries. Witness the US government’s rapprochement with the Muslim Brothers, as well as Republican leader Senator John McCain’s kind words to them, and it becomes clear that a new political reality is setting in the region.

The Jordanian Monarch criticised the Israelis for their expansionist policies and for not reciprocating the Palestinians’ peaceful overtures. If one reads into the statements made by Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, one can see that the King gave some advice to the Palestinians regarding their negotiating stance with Israel.

The Palestinians have two conditions to returning to direct negotiations with Israel: total freeze of all settlement activities in all occupied territories, including East Jerusalem, and that negotiations be based on the principle of exchanging land for peace and recognise the 1967 borders.

Palestinians believe both these conditions are in line with international law and treaties, and fall within publicly articulated policies made by all major powers, including Israel’s biggest ally, the United States.

The Palestinian political strategy will be to continue to seek recognition as a full state at the UN while pursuing the national unity talks with Hamas. A major obstacle in this direction was removed when Prime Minister Salam Fayyad publicly stated that he would be happy to step aside if a person is found that all parties can agree upon. No such person has yet been found and some analysts are calling on Abbas to assume himself the premiership and appoint a West Bank and a Gaza deputy as an interim step, until elections can take place.

King Abdullah’s visit to Palestine has produced its initial goal, which is to uplift the spirits of Palestinians, including Abbas, who suffered a setback at the UN, because of the US Congress cutting off funds, of Israel withholding Palestinian money and the prisoner exchange that included no leading PLO prisoners.

It remains to be seen if the visit will be sufficient to compensate for all of that or if there will be need for other Arab and international leaders to step up and support the embattled Palestinian leadership.

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