Why Trump’s Pressure Campaign on the Palestinians Will Backfire
The Trump administration on Monday announced that it would close the office of the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s delegation in Washington, D.C. In an announcement, the State Department said the closure was in response to what it called the PLO’s failure “to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel.” It also expressed concerns over the PLO’s efforts to have the International Criminal Court investigate Israel for war crimes.
The closure of the office, which functioned as a de facto embassy, is the latest in a series of moves by the Trump administration that have strained ties with the Palestinian leadership. Last December, President Donald Trump officially recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, despite Palestinians’ territorial claim to occupied East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. The relocated U.S. Embassy in West Jerusalem was formally inaugurated in May. In late August, the U.S. announced that it would no longer fund the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA, which is responsible for providing food, education and health care to millions of Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. The U.S., which contributed roughly a third of UNRWA’s $1.1 billion budget, argued that the agency was poorly managed, and contested the refugee status of Palestinians not alive at the time of the agency’s establishment in 1949.
The Trump administration’s pressure campaign comes at a time when Palestinian leaders in both the West Bank and Gaza have been weakened by divisions and seen their credibility undermined by their failure to improve day-to-day conditions for Palestinians or achieve statehood. This collection of five recent WPR articles provides comprehensive analysis and context to better understand this headline news.
Despite repeatedly announcing his intention to present a bold, sweeping plan to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, President Donald Trump continues to keep everyone waiting. If he ever does present his plan, it is set to backfire, for several reasons. For one thing, the Trump administration has been shunned by Palestinians since it recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel last December. For another, key Arab countries are opposed to these new hard-line American positions. But the most significant reason why Trump’s supposed “grand deal” would provoke a major backlash is that the Israeli coalition led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not actually in favor of an American peace proposal. The Trump administration’s actions to date suggest that it is in fact not developing its own ideas and holding consultations, but rather working closely with Israel to enforce its ally’s go-it-alone strategy. But this new American-Israeli approach is headed for failure.
Trump’s decision to unilaterally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital marked a turning point for 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, even though the city’s status is arguably the most contentious issue between them. The Palestinian Authority’s response to Trump’s Jerusalem decision so far has been scathing, but futile. Given the environment on the ground and the current Israeli and American administrations, there is an immediate need for a paradigm shift to reassess the future of a Palestinian state.
On March 24, a bill requiring the U.S. government to cut financial aid to the Palestinian Authority quietly passed into law as part of the omnibus spending bill signed by Trump. The new law, known as the Taylor Force Act, is the latest in a series of punitive measures taken by Washington against the Palestinians that are casting a shadow over their bilateral relationship and threatening stability in the Middle East. The Taylor Force Act and the hundreds of millions of dollars in aid that it blocks will have real consequences on the ground. “The approach of the administration is at war with itself,” Robert Malley, president of the International Crisis Group and a former special assistant to U.S. Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, told WPR. “It’s going to be almost impossible for [Trump’s peace plan] to get a positive reception because of how much they’ve poisoned the well.”
In March, representatives of 20 countries sat around a table in the White House to discuss ways to ease the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. That same day, on a road inside Gaza, a bomb exploded, striking a convoy carrying a high-level Palestinian delegation, including the Palestinian Authority’s prime minister. The group was traveling through the Hamas-dominated coastal enclave to inaugurate a new water purification plant. If the roadside bomb, which failed to kill any of its targets, highlighted the deadly rivalries that continue to plague the beleaguered territory, the White House conference put on display the fierce dilemmas that the region’s players face in dealing with Gaza. The most startling fact about the Washington gathering was that no Palestinian representative attended.
No doubt shocked by Trump’s decision to carry out his campaign promise to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has been scrambling for an appropriate response. His initial reaction was to slam the decision, declaring that “the United States has become no longer qualified to sponsor the peace process.” But the truth is that the Palestinians are boxed in. While much of this situation derives from circumstances beyond Abbas’ control, a good part is also self-inflicted. Despite years of diplomatic stalemate in which the Palestinian Authority was at frequent risk of collapse and the Israelis relentlessly pursued settlement expansion in the West Bank, Abbas and those around him have failed to develop a contingency plan or prepare their people for what could come next. Palestinians have been left adrift at the worst possible time.
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