Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and French President Emmanuel Macron spoke at a joint press conference a day after 128 countries in the UN General Assembly voted to condemn the US for its move to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Both reiterated support for the peace process. Abbas stressed that after US President Donald Trump’s Jerusalem statement, he did not see Trump as a partner in “any kind of political process.” There were several highlights to the important meeting which comes a day after Abbas met with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman.
Abbas: US no longer a partner in peace
At the meeting Abbas said: “I confirmed to President Macron that after Trump announced Jerusalem as capital of Israel, I told Macron that Trump is no longer a partner in any kind of political process and can no longer be a partner in this process, what has happened and the way the US acted specifically took them out of the role of being a broker for peace.” The statement indicates that Abbas is looking to France and other countries for leadership in supporting the Palestinian demands. Abbas appeared to leave the door open for future US work in the peace process once Trump has left office. With US envoy Jason Greenblatt in Israel the same week, Abbas has chosen symbolically to ignore the continued US interest in the peace process. The Palestinians also made it clear that US Vice-President Mike Pence was not welcome to come for Christmas. Pence chose to go to Afghanistan on a surprise visit instead.
The history of Palestinian rocky relations with various US administrations shows that Abbas’s claims to push the US out of the process probably will be temporary. Other US administrations have all come and gone with the same cycle of difficulties, either with Israel or the Palestinians.
Macron: Stability in the region and security of Palestine
Macron stressed the important of stability and security in his comments. He noted that “the role of France is to ensure stability in the region” and security for Israel and the Palestinians. Macron has said the war with Islamic State is coming to an end and France is likely to announce that by February, according to previous comments from Macron’s office. This shows that after ISIS France wants to play an increasingly important role in the peace process. France is seeking to fill a void or vacuum created by distrust for Trump on the Palestinian side.
France has tried this before. In 2016 French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault attempted to “relaunch” the peace process. However its attempts then did not make headway. Macron said on December 22nd that “France and EU will be mobilized to accompany both parties for a solution. On the 22nd of January President Abbas will be in Brussels and there will be again this discussion. And I will go to Israel and Palestine to exchange ideas on peace process.”
Macron supports Fatah-Hamas reconciliation
In his comments Macron noted that Abbas was “doing a lot of efforts for Hamas and Fatah and France supported it, and Palestinian Authority must go back to Gaza.” He pointed to an involvement in this process “in the coming days.” This illustrates that despite the reconciliation agreement signed between the Palestinian factions in October and the return of Palestinian Authority officials to the Gaza border with Egypt, the reconciliation has been paused since mid-November. By December the PA was supposed to be in charge again in Gaza. The US decision on Jerusalem has thrown a wrench into any kind of reconciliation by distracting from it.
Abbas condemns Israel for “expanding” in West Bank
Abbas claimed that Israel “continues to create new occupations in areas world has identified as occupied Palestinian land, they continue to expand. They force native people out of their homes.” He also mentioned the case of Ahed Tamimi, the 16-year-old Palestinian teen arrested after slapping an Israeli soldier. He claimed that Israel has also killed a man during a “peaceful protest,” an apparent reference to the shooting death of a disabled Palestinian man in Gaza.
Abbas wants sympathy for these cases and he sought to highlight them and claimed that international community has seen the suffering of Palestinians and that this will encourage EU and foreign support.
Abbas: Palestine is fighting terror
“We are here to say Palestine will be ok into the future and here to confirm that we are one of the main parties that continue to fight against terrorism and violence,” Abbas claimed in his comments. “We spread the culture of peace…we will not resort to violence or using weapons…we want peace, we want peace with Israel before anyone. We want to make peace, we would like to reach peace.” His constant reference to peace and claims that his PA government is a partner in the international coalition against terrorism is part of his attempt to position the Palestinians as partners with the EU and the West.
Although Abbas knows that within the Palestinian Authority there are many instances of terrorists being glamorized, either through murals of streets and squares named after various terrorists, he wants to show that the PA today is committed to peace. His comments are an opening to the peace process that France says it wants to help foster, including Macron’s comments about having hosted Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently. However the question remains how to get to the peace table. Given the divide between Jerusalem and Ramallah, and between the US position and that of France and others, it is not clear how either Israel or the Palestinians can reach an agreement.