Yesterday, I was honored to announce that Ghaith al-Omari has joined the ALL ARAB NEWS Advisory Board.
That’s because I have found this former advisor to the Palestinian peace negotiating team, who now serves as a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, is a bold, independent, moderate and remarkably refreshing and rare voice in the Palestinian world.
“Joining ALL ARAB NEWS’ stellar advisory board members is a true honor and pleasure,” al-Omari said. “In the short period since its launching, ALL ARAB NEWS has emerged as a leading source of news and analysis, often giving insights into how the region itself and its leaders view Middle East developments.
“ALL ARAB NEWS is essential reading for anyone following the region, and the focus on Evangelicals brings an important – and often overlooked – voice into the conversation about this complex region,” he added.
In Part One of our interview, I wanted his take on the extremely unpopular Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, especially as he begins the 17th year of his original four-year term in office.
Today, in Part Two of our interview, I widen the aperture and get al-Omari’s take on what’s happening on the Palestinian street right now, and what he thinks the future holds.
I also wanted his thoughts on the recent – and surprising – meeting between Abbas and Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz.
Here are excerpts from our interview, lightly edited for clarity.
ROSENBERG: As we begin 2022, what’s the mood on the street in the Palestinian Authority right now? What do people want? What do they fear?
GHAITH AL-OMARI: In political terms, the mood is quite grim.
Polls indicate that Palestinians have lost trust in their own leaderships and institutions, in Israel’s sincerity about achieving peace, and in the very prospect of any solution to the conflict.
Most Palestinians today are apathetic when it comes to engagement in public affairs and seem to be focused on personal quality of life issues. This has created a false sense of stability. In the past – for example on the eve of the two intifadas – such episodes of apathy quickly gave rise to turmoil.
Any of the concerns often expressed by Palestinians could shatter this calm.
Some of these concerns are domestic, relating to corruption in the Palestinian Authority, human rights violations, poor economic performance and growing lack of law and order.
Others relate to Israel, whether they relate to developments in Jerusalem and the highly emotive Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, friction with the IDF in the West Bank, or increasingly, settler violence. This last point is worth keeping a close eye on in 2022. Settler violence is a longstanding issue, but recent years have witnessed an increase in these incidents, some of which were particularly brazen.
ROSENBERG: Who are the most important, interesting and influential people to watch in Palestinian politics and society in 2022?
AL-OMARI: This is a difficult question to answer.
The shrinking of the political space due to the PA’s and Hamas’ authoritarian practices has made it difficult for new names to emerge in national Palestinian politics. It is telling that the most notable and recognizable new Palestinian voices in 2021 did not emerge through the regular political process but rather in very local contexts in response to specific crises – most notably in the Sheikh Jarrah protests. Yet the political stagnation has made it difficult for these new voices to break into national politics.
That said, within the political elite in the West Bank I would keep a close eye on Hussein al-Sheikh, whose de facto position as the interlocutor with Israel and the U.S. will soon be formalized. He has been tapped to replace the late Saeb Erekat in the PLO. This will elevate him into a major player within the PA and Fatah.
Jibril Rajoub is always an interesting political actor who has managed to transform his leadership of the Palestinian soccer and Olympic associations into a well-oiled political machine.
This year will also show whether the new political alliance between Nasser Kidwa and Marwan Barghouti – formed on the eve of the aborted parliamentary by Fatah leaders and cadres frustrated with Abbas’ leadership – has any traction or is just a fleeting development.
Within Hamas, 2022 will likely witness the beginnings of the struggle to succeed Hamas’ current leader Ismail Haniyeh who, according to Hamas bylaws, cannot run for a third term.
While the next Hamas internal elections are not due for more than three years, there are two competing camps that will be positioning for primacy.
The first represents Hamas in the Gaza Strip and is led by Yahya Sinwar.
The second represents Hamas abroad and is led by Qatar-based Khaled Meshaal.
Actions and positions taken by these two men and their allies will be indicative of Hamas’ future direction and may have immediate policy and security implications.
ROSENBERG: What do you make of Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s recent meeting with Abbas? Will anything significant come out of this?
AL-OMARI: The meeting itself is very significant in its own right, as it is the first public meeting between Abbas and a senior Israel minister in years.
It shows that, after years of highly uncooperative relations under former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, areas of cooperation may start emerging under the new Israeli governments.
While the Palestinians and Israelis remain very far apart on political issues, the meeting indicates that in reality both sides are invested in cooperating on day-to-day matters pertaining to the situation in the West Bank.
It is also a clear signal that, within the Israeli Cabinet, Gantz is firmly in charge of the Palestinian portfolio.
One unintended positive outcome is that this public, high-level meeting has made it easier for Jordan to openly engage with Israeli officials.
It is not a coincidence that mere days after the Abbas-Gantz meeting, Gantz held a public meeting with King Abdullah II of Jordan.
While the king had met with President Isaac Herzog and Prime Minister Bennett previously, the meeting with Gantz was publicized by the Jordanian side, which felt more comfortable to do that after the PA leader resumed his meetings with Israeli high officials.