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1 March 2018

Figuring out Trump

By: Daoud Kuttab
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After a year in office and following several face-to-face and other engagements, the Palestinian leadership seems to have figured out Donald Trump. This is not to say that they are able to stop him from carrying out his outrageous pro-Israeli policies, but they now know what makes the resident of the White House tick and how to deal with him.
Initially, Palestinian leaders, including President Mahmoud Abbas, tried the praise tactic. In his public pronouncements while meeting the US president, Abbas praised Trump and spoke of him favourably. Palestinians were awaiting his ultimate plan, and no previous or current information that would condemn the man would affect their willingness to publicly indulge him.
However, when actually the facts of the US bias bore out with the outlandish unilateral decision on Jerusalem, Palestinian leaders were quick to deny the American leader the ability to say that he is, in fact, engaging with two sides of a conflict.
But, while Palestinians are angry and upset with the American leader, they also realise that as far as being able to influence policy and press Israelis, they are the only game in town.
So, while boycotting the Americans and seeking French and Russian partnership in the non-existent peace process, Palestinians appear to have decided not to turn fire at maximum strength against Washington without conceding on any issue.
Point of view of this new tactic has been the most recent announcement coming from Washington. One month after US Vice President Mike Pence publicly told His Majesty King Abdullah that the move of the American embassy would not take place until late 2019, the US said it will begin the move on May 14th 2017 in parallel with Israel’s 70th independence day celebration. May 15th is remembered by Palestinians as “Nakba” or catastrophe day, a commemoration of the shattering expulsion of Palestinians during the 1948. Some 5.3 million Palestinian refugees continue to seek the right of return. But despite some opposing public statement, the Palestinian reaction was muted. Palestinian officials said that they felt that the Americans were trying to bait them to return to the engagement with them and that they have chosen not to take the bite.
Whether the US decision was a bluff aimed at forcing Palestinians to return or simply a reflection of a dangerous move aimed at deflecting internal scandals in Washington, the Palestinians appear to have decided to focus their efforts on the larger issue. The Palestinian campaign to find international co-sponsors to the peace process is taking place at the same time that efforts continue to convince more countries, especially in Europe, to recognise Palestine on the 1967 borders. The Palestinian argument in many European capitals is that such recognition does not negate or negatively affect peace talks, but rather puts the talks in the proper direction. For Palestinians suffering from decades of exile, occupation and illegal exclusive Jewish settlement, what is needed from the international community is the will to implement peace rather than negotiate about its parameters. The world community accepts the two-state solution and, therefore, every country that has recognised Israel in its pre-1967 borders should do the same to the other half of the two-state solution.
The Palestinian tactic of shifting the concentration to Brussels and Moscow rather than Washington has yet to bear fruit. Europeans and Russians are also trying their best to try and understand the logic, direction and ultimate goal of the US foreign policy in regards to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Clearly, attempts to say and believe that Jerusalem is off the table or expect that reduction of aid to UNRWA removes the rights of Palestinian refugees is as folly as Trump believing that he is the greatest president America has ever seen.
The Palestinian efforts to channel their anger and choose their battles make sense in the current lopsided balance of forces in the Middle East. What is needed to help Palestinians is committed and vocal support and action by fellow Arab and majority Muslim countries, as well as world leaders, whether in Berlin, Paris, London, Moscow or Beijing.

* A Palestinian columnist based in Amman, Jordan. - dkuttab@ammannet.net

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