By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas doesn’t give up easily.
If one door closes for him, he’ll simply find another.
And that is exactly what he is planning for Wednesday, Sept. 19, when he will fly to Paris to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron in an attempt to circumvent the United States by securing European sponsorship of Palestinian negotiations with Israel.
Macron, who has already publicly bumped heads with U.S. President Donald Trump on a number of issues, may or may not take the bait.
Historically, France has taken a lenient stance with the Palestinians, and has even threatened to unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state.
It also hosted an alternative peace summit in 2016 (which accomplished next to nothing due primarily to the absence of both Israeli and Palestinian officials).
But coddling Abbas when Washington is trying to pressure the PA to come back to the negotiating tables could not only court the political ire of the United States, but would be counterproductive in the global efforts to reach a Middle East peace plan.
Furious at Trump for opening an embassy in Jerusalem, cutting back on aid to the PA, freezing Palestinian Authority financial assets in the United States and closing the PLO diplomatic mission in Washington, Abbas has made it clear that he will also court other European leaders to back a parallel peace plan during the UN General Assembly later this week.
Trump’s less-than-gracious international comportment and untethered rhetoric may very well push some European leaders to accept the alternate Mideast peace negotiations.
And that could push the U.S-brokered peace initiative back more than a decade.
But on the other hand, Abbas’ scheme could backfire.
By courting a European alternative negotiation, he is playing both sides against the middle.
Abbas is treading on thin ice diplomatically, and he seems to know it.
Former PA allies like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan have stirred clear of Abbas and his recent rants against Washington, preferring not to get involved in a confrontation with the Trump administration over the Palestinian issue.
Two day ago – perhaps fearing even greater U.S. sanctions against the PA or maybe finally realizing that it did not behoove him to continue antagonizing the only mediator that has managed to win some ground for the Palestinian struggle – Abbas made a sudden about-face in tactics, instructing his spokespeople to tone down their verbal attacks on Trump and the United States.
The fact of the matter is that the United States – not Europe – is Palestine’s biggest financial supporter, and the only viable potential broker of Middle East peace.
The U.S. sanctions against the PA are well grounded.
Repeatedly, Abbas has refused to budge on any significant issue in talks with Israel, stalling any hope for peace in the foreseeable future.
Last year alone, the PA shelled out $144 million in so-called martyr payments of stipends to families of Palestinians imprisoned for acts of terrorism or killed while attacking Israelis.
Abbas has already earned the anger of a large share of the Palestinian people for antagonizing relations with Washington, and protests against him in Ramallah – once unheard of – are now becoming commonplace.
His credibility as a leader of the PA is being sorely challenged, both at home and abroad.
Abbas’ attempt to convince Macron and other European leaders to bypass Washington is a risky maneuver for the PA chairman.
He has already burned too many bridges with Ramallah’s diplomatic allies, and his stubborn insistence on trying to sidestep Washington might just leave him on the sidelines when it comes to future negotiations to achieve Palestinian statehood.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.