The US is preparing the heir of Israel’s security partner Abbas

PA President Mahmoud Abbas (Ali Balıkçı - Anadolu Agency)

Motasem A Dalloul

Middle East Monitor  /  October 3, 2022

The Palestinian Authority’s Minister of Civilian Affairs and PLO Executive Committee Secretary-General Hussein al-Sheikh is heading to Washington to meet senior officials from the Biden administration, even though the US president has not yet launched his vision for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. According to Haaretz, an Israeli official who was briefed about the visit said that Al-Sheikh will meet White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan as well as senior officials in the State Department and the CIA.

Al-Sheikh is one of the closest aides of octogenarian PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who signed the Oslo Accords along with late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in the early 1990s. The accords were created to facilitate the concession of Palestinian rights and principles in favour of the Israeli occupation.

Due to the increasing Israeli aggression against the Palestinians and the sharp hike in attacks by illegal Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem, the Palestinians have started to shift from popular to armed resistance. This trend has been increasing despite the violent Israeli military crackdown.

Meanwhile, the PA security services have been unable to contain the entirely legitimate armed resistance. PA security officers have raided the homes of Palestinian activists and detained them or members of their families; detained journalists and cracked down on media outlets; and issued serious threats. Nothing is working.

At the time when there is no Israeli government which is able to take decisive decisions, Washington does not want to see armed Palestinian resistance snowball in the occupied West Bank, so is stepping in.

While the US, Israel and the international community, which is complicit in Israel’s violence against the Palestinians, believe that the continuation of Oslo Accords is the best way to maintain Israel’s occupation of Palestine, they must think of passing the mission from one generation to another. In order not to fall into the trap of competition for the Palestinian Big Boss of the Accords, Abbas, the US and its partners want to ensure that the heir to the Oslo project is ready when the Boss dies or is otherwise incapable of controlling the PA. Hence, Washington’s invitation to Hussein al-Sheikh.

Haaretz described Al-Sheikh as a “potential successor” to Abbas, who told Palestinian Americans on the fringe of the UN General Assembly last week that he has realized that “it is not that the Israelis do not want peace but the Americans do not want peace.”

“I think that the USA is worried about the situation in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem in the light of the ongoing Israeli escalation. At the same time, it wants to make sure that the PA is able to carry out its role related to security cooperation, cracking down on the Palestinian resistance,” explained Palestinian political analyst Ismat Mansour. “The US summoned Hussein al-Sheikh to Washington to absorb the PA’s anger as well as to boost it in order to be able to deal with the increasing opposition among the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.”

He added that the US “is unable to put pressure on Israel in order to keep the situation calm as there is no Israeli government working with the PA and trying to help it absorb the Israeli escalation and turn its anger against the Palestinian people.” America, insisted Mansour, is working to reinforce the position of Al-Sheikh as he is the best heir of Mahmoud Abbas in American and Israeli eyes.”

The political analyst pointed out that “the US is interesting in boosting the PA, but it does not want to resume the stalled political process or initiate a new one. It will offer only some political and financial support.”

As far as Palestinian political analyst Mustafa al-Sawwaf is concerned, “The US is preparing for Abbas’s succession. He is expected to leave the political arena very soon, either due to his ailing health, death or inability to run the PA.” What’s more, the final chapter of the PA’s mission is incomplete. “The last chapter is the full occupation of Jerusalem and Judaization of its Old City and Al-Aqsa Mosque. The US and Israel want to complete this chapter but they don’t believe that Abbas will be able to do it. So Hussein Al-Sheikh is being groomed as the best partner to continue the Oslo Accords.”

Moreover, said Al-Sawwaf, “The escalation in the occupied West Bank is not real. It is made to cause chaos in order to make the succession move smoothly because there are several other PA and Fatah officials who have their eyes on Abbas’s chair and they could obstruct the mission easily.”

Israeli journalist Baruch Yedid told me that Al-Sheikh was nominated by Abbas himself to take up his role as the PA head, which is why the US is dealing with him on related matters. “It is clear that the US also understands that he is the successor designated by Abbas. I think he is going out there as a statement of intent.”

Meanwhile, the US is working with Al-Sheikh on a plan to suspend plans to go to the UN. “The US wants the PA to refrain from unilateral steps such as the request for full membership of the United Nations,” claimed Yedid. “I hear from Ramallah that they are setting up a security plan to control all the territories and it is possible that the trip is related to that.”

Yedid added that the US administration is working with the PA because of the lack of any effective Israeli government. “There is currently no contact with Israel, but this is possible after the General Election,” he added.

It looks like the US and the PA are preparing for the post-election stage, when the Israeli political arena is likely to be dominated by extreme right-wing politicians. The best PA official to keep up with the Oslo mission, Washington believes, is Hussein al-Sheikh.

Motasem A Dalloul is MEMO’s correspondent in the Gaza Strip