It has become an annual tradition: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and members of his government spend a few days before and during Christmas Day in Bethlehem.
While Abbas’ participation in the midnight mass at the Church of the Nativity is the highlight of the visit, the Palestinian leader has began to host regularly the local Palestinian community.
This Christmas reception hosted by Abbas enabled him and the local community to converse and exchange ideas and information about life in the Bethlehem area.
Bethlehem Mayor Vera Baboun came with the idea of the presidential reception a few years ago, and it has become an annual tradition with some 250 local dignitaries attending.
In his address at this year’s reception, Abbas spoke warmly about Jordan. He denounced the recent events in Karak and expressed condolences to the families of those who were killed by terrorists.
He praised His Majesty King Abdullah and his leadership of Jordan.
The warm words by the Palestinian president reflect the priorities of the Palestinian leadership after the Fateh congress.
During the late November meeting, the leading Palestinian liberation movement was able to overcome strong regional pressures and finalise the expulsion of Mohammad Dahlan, the former Gaza Fateh strongman who broke ranks with the leadership and was not invited to attend.
Abbas, who strengthened his own leadership at the Fateh congress, is giving top priority to the need to mend relations with nearby neighbours, Egypt and Jordan.
Abbas made a surprise visit to Saudi Arabia after the Fateh congress to thank the Saudi monarch for reinstating the regular Saudi stipend to the Palestinian government.
Saudi Arabia transferred $65 million to the Palestinian coffers shortly after the conclusion of the Fateh congress.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Egypt created a quartet which has made a series of requests of the Palestinian government, many of which were ignored by holding the Fateh event without Dahlan and his supporters.
Improving relations between Palestine and this quartet is important for the overall Palestinian reconciliation effort.
The Fateh congress witnessed the beginning of a rapprochement between Fateh and the Islamic Hamas movement.
If Abbas is going to be able to hold a session of the Palestine National Council (PNC) in the coming months, as requested by his movement, he needs to reach a breakthrough with Hamas regarding the rebuilding of Palestinians’ most important organisation.
The 130-member Palestinian Legislative Council (in which Hamas won the majority of delegates in 2006) constitutes less than a third of the PNC, which represents Palestinians around the world.
In order to proceed, Abbas and Hamas need to agree to a timetable for the implementation of the reconciliation agreements signed in Mecca, Cairo and Gaza.
The agreements call for the creation of a national unity government consisting of the various Palestinian factions, followed by holding a session of the PNC that includes Hamas and then by presidential and parliamentary elections, which are expected to seal the reconciliation and allow for a single central government to control both Gaza and the West Bank.
Jordan sent positive signals to the Palestinian leadership. Jordanian officials welcomed the messages of support that came from private and public levels of the Palestinian population.
Jordan also publicly supported the recent anti-settlement UN Security Council resolution, which passed with 14 votes for and one abstention, the US.
Palestinians, like many in the region and the world, are very happy that 2016 is about to end.
Every year when the Israeli occupation and settlement activities continue is not a good year for Palestinians.
The UN Security Council vote gave a guarded sense of optimism that 2017 might be the year when Palestine will witness an end to the half a century of occupation.
To reach this goal, Palestinians must overcome their internal differences and come out clearly as a unified front.
Such Palestinian unity will also need the unity of its Arab depth and the support of the international community.
Palestinian-Jordanian relations are crucial to the success of any concerted Arab effort to support Palestinians’ aspirations to become free and independent in 2017.
It is hoped that the new year will be better for all.