Abbas: PA must be part of Gaza reconstruction
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Abbas: PA must be part of Gaza reconstruction

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Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has told the US administration, Egypt, Qatar, the European Union and other parties that the PA must be involved in any plan for the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip.

Abbas warned that dealing separately with the Gaza Strip would solidify the split with the West Bank, embolden his rivals in Hamas, and undermine efforts to renew the stalled peace process with Israel, according to a Palestinian official in Ramallah.

Abbas, on the other hand, is seeking the backing of key Arab countries – including Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Qatar – for his initiative to hold an international conference for peace in the Middle East under the auspices of the Quartet members – the US, EU, United Nations, and Russia, the official told The Jerusalem Post.

In a series of meetings and phone conversations over the past few days, Abbas told EU, US, UN and Arab officials and envoys that he welcomes the talk about a reconstruction plan for the Gaza Strip, but insists that such an effort be carried out only in coordination with the PA government.

On Saturday, Abbas discussed the issue of the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip during a phone conversation with the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, and a meeting with a visiting Egyptian security delegation.

“The president (Abbas) stressed the importance of coordinating all efforts concerning the Gaza Strip with the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah,” the official said. “He warned that failing to do so would only consolidate the division between the West Bank and Gaza Strip and undermine the Palestinian Authority.”

Abbas’s insistence on being part of any deal to rebuild the Gaza Strip reflects his concern over the rising popularity of Hamas in the aftermath of its 11-day fighting with Israel.

In the weeks leading up to the fighting, thousands of Palestinians took to the streets in the West Bank and east Jerusalem to express support for Hamas and denounce Abbas as a “traitor.

After the Israel-Hamas ceasefire went into effect early Friday, many Palestinians celebrated the Gaza-based group’s “victory” and chanted slogans in support of Mohammed Deif, the supreme commander of its military wing, Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades.

“Mohammed Deif is the most popular Palestinian leader,” remarked a veteran Palestinian newspaper editor. “If Deif runs in the presidential election, he will defeat Abbas. In fact, any boy from the Gaza Strip would defeat Abbas.”

Last Friday, worshippers at the al-Aqsa Mosque expelled the mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Mohammed Hussein, from the mosque and prevented him from completing his sermon. The protesters accused the mufti, who is closely associated with Abbas, of ignoring Hamas and the Gaza Strip in the Friday prayers sermon.

The unprecedented assault on the mufti is seen by Palestinians as a severe blow to Abbas and a sign of Hamas’s soaring popularity among the Palestinians.

During the Israel-Hamas fighting, Abbas was considered irrelevant by Palestinians and many in the international community, mainly due to the fact that he has no influence over Hamas or what happens in the Gaza Strip, which he has not visited since 2007.

Some Palestinians said they could not understand why US, EU and UN officials were continuing to hold talks with Abbas about the situation in the Gaza Strip when they know that he has no leverage with Hamas of the other terrorist groups there.

But Abbas has been working hard, especially in the past two weeks, to prove to the Americans and Europeans that he remains not only as relevant as ever, but that he is a legitimate leader of the and the only address for those who want to deal with the Palestinians.

Abbas has in the past indirectly criticized Qatar for sending cash payments to the Gaza Strip through Israel, and not in coordination with the PA.

His aides warned that the money was part of a secret Israeli-American-Arab conspiracy to prop up Hamas at the expense of the PA. They further claimed that the alleged plot was designed to keep the Palestinians divided into two separate entities – in the West Bank and Gaza Strip – so as to prevent the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

Now that the calm has returned to the Gaza Strip, Abbas has renewed his efforts to persuade the US administration to accept his initiative for reviving the stalled peace process with Israel under the auspices of the Quartet and other international parties.

On Sunday, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi and PA Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki met in Amman and agreed to continue coordination and consultation “to launch an effective international action to end the [Israeli] occupation and achieve a just peace based on the two-state solution in accordance with international law and the [2002] Arab Peace Initiative.”

The meeting, which came on the eve of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s planned visit to Israel and the West Bank, was aimed at sending a message to the new US administration that it needs to start taking real steps to resume the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The Egyptians have also voiced support for Abbas’s international conference idea.

Over the past few weeks, Abbas has assured the Americans and Europeans that he is serious about returning to the negotiating table with Israel.

He has also expressed readiness to set a new date for the Palestinian parliamentary and presidential elections, which he delayed on the pretext that Israel was opposed to holding the vote in Jerusalem.

Once Israel agrees to the participation of Jerusalem in the elections, the Palestinians will announce a new date for the vote, Abbas told a meeting of The Arab Parliament, the legislative body of the Arab League, last week. A similar message was also relayed to the US administration.

The message Abbas sent to the US and EU: You need to put pressure on Israel to stop its provocations against the Palestinians, particularly in Jerusalem, in order to create a positive atmosphere that would allow me to resume the peace process.

The PA official told the Post that Abbas was optimistic regarding the “intentions” of the US administration. “We have heard some very encouraging things from the Biden administration,” the official said. “The most important thing is that this administration understands that President Abbas is the only address and that weakening the Palestinian Authority does not serve peace and stability.”

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