How Should Palestinian Leadership Respond to Trump’s Jerusalem Decision?

How Should Palestinian Leadership Respond to Trump’s Jerusalem Decision?
A protest against the inauguration of the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, May 14, 2018 (AP photo by Nasser Nasser).

Overturning seven decades of U.S. policy and international consensus, President Donald Trump’s decision to unilaterally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital marked a turning point in the prospects of an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement based on the principle of two independent states.

Trump once insisted that his decision should not translate into an official American position on any of the so-called final status issues for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Yet, contradicting his own statements, he also stressed that by “taking Jerusalem off the table,” Palestinians and Israelis would somehow get past Jerusalem and “don’t have to talk about it anymore,” even though the city’s status is arguably the most contentious issue between them. Of course, Trump is not alone in shouldering responsibility for this situation. The U.S. Congress is too, since the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, the backbone of Trump’s decision, clearly states that Jerusalem must remain the undivided capital of the State of Israel.

Trump’s apparent confusion over the consequences of his Jerusalem decision was as puzzling as the timing of his announcement last December, which sabotaged his administration’s feverish, yearlong diplomatic efforts for a much-hyped peace plan that still has yet to be unveiled. Until Trump made his announcement, there were new hopes in Ramallah throughout 2017 for reviving moribund negotiations with Israel, as American officials met on several occasions with Palestinian, Israeli and other Arab representatives. The Palestinian Authority’s leadership was genuinely optimistic, particularly after President Mahmoud Abbas’ amicable meetings with Trump in Bethlehem, New York and Washington. Abbas’ optimism was based on Trump’s ostensible prioritization of the peace process, including his public advice to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to restrain Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank, which surpassed Abbas’ expectations.

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