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Palestinians warn Abbas accepting US Jerusalem plan would be ‘political suicide’

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas addresses the United Nations General Assembly in New York on September 20, 2017
Kevin Hagen (GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP)
Palestinians are disappointed by the late Saudi reaction to Trump's mooted Jerusalem policy shift

Palestinian officials were fuming on Tuesday as an announcement by United States President Donald Trump recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel appeared imminent and reports emerged that Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas is under significant pressure to accept a Saudi-backed peace initiative that includes a major concessions on Palestinian claims over the holy city.

A Palestinian source close to Abbas told i24NEWS on Tuesday that Arab and Muslim allies of the US have said that Trump intends to forge ahead with recognizing Israel’s claim on Jerusalem, despite a diplomatic and media blitz by the Palestinian Authority aimed at delaying it.

The source said that the PA is particularly disappointed by Saudi Arabia’s reaction to the impending US move, adding that the PA believes Riyadh is “cooking” something up with the Trump administration with regards to the peace process.

On Tuesday a Saudi foreign ministry source quoted in the official Saudi Press Agency warned any US policy shift on Jerusalem would incur “grave and negative consequences”.

“The Kingdom hopes that the US administration does not take such a step, in order to avoid compromising the ability of the United States to continue its efforts to achieve a just resolution for the Palestinian cause,” the statement added.

AHMAD GHARABLI (AFP/Archives)

But the Abbas advisor said the Palestinians saw the Saudi reaction as attempting to save face, as it came late in the game and was not attributable to any high-profile official.

The status of Jerusalem is a combustible issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Palestinians have long demanded Arab-majority East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, while Israel has declared the undivided city as its capital after annexing it in 1967.

On Sunday, the New York Times reported that Saudi Arabia has proposed a peace initiative which offers the Palestinians a a non-contiguous state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip over which they will have only partial sovereignty, and with the Jerusalem-adjacent village of Abu Dis as an alternative capital.

The source slammed the deal as serving Israel more than any proposal ever offered by any American president, and said that Abbas rejected it outright, despite Saudi Arabia threatening to cut off financial aid and squeeze him out of power.

Jordanian officials feel they have been muscled out of the deliberations by the Saudis, the source said, despite King Abdullah’s role as custodian of Jerusalem’s Muslim holy sites.

The PA has instead turned for urgent support to Turkey.

AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File

Earlier on Tuesday Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the Jerusalem issue is a “red line” for the world’s Muslims and even dangled the prospect of severing diplomatic ties with Israel, a relationship that was only delicately put back together after the 2010 raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla.

A Fatah member said Palestinians increasingly see Trump as "aligning" himself with Israel’s right wing, who object to a Palestinian state and see even limited Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank as a major concession.

"It is a serious political precedent and it is in violation of international law, which continues to place Jerusalem under negotiation, as an occupied city," the member said, questioning why the city’s status was being determined now when in theory it is one of the “final status” topics of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

The PA’s chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, flew out of the United States on Tuesday, where he had been undergoing a lung transplant. A source said that was because Abbas does not wish for him to be there when the announcement comes.

The Abbas adviser also sees American recognition of Jerusalem as capital to be a threat to Abbas’ power, if it elicits a popular backlash on the streets.

He said accepting compromise on the city, particularly the unconfirmed suggestion that Abu Dis is being floated as an alternative capital, would be “political suicide” for the 82 year-old, who has numerous political rivals hovering in the shadows.

Mohammad Al-Kassim is i24NEWS' Senior Middle East correspondent

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