Analysis

Palestinians Don't Expect Much From Trump, but Fear Losing Self-rule

The election of the misogynist owner of beauty contests is interpreted as simply a continuation of America's decline.

A Palestinian man reads the Al-Quds newspaper depicting images newly elected U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in Jerusalem's Old City November 9, 2016.
Ammar Awad, Reuters

Official Palestine, the office of President Mahmoud Abbas, issued the obvious announcement: “We will work with any president elected by the American people in the framework of the principle of achieving a permanent solution in the Middle East on the basis of a two-state solution within the June 4, 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital.”

There is no expectation that Donald Trump will surprise where Barack Obama completely gave up — in other words, on pressuring Israel and ending construction in the settlements — even if he doesn’t declare, as his advisor has, that the settlements are legal. The assumption, or hope, is that upon entering the White House, Trump will not be able to deviate too much from the working rules and the fundamental principles of decades of American foreign policy, because in the end the United States is a nation of institutions and laws, and not of one man.

One of these fundamental principles is the maintenance of the Israeli occupation, in a package deal with the preservation of the existence of an independent Palestinian rule. This is expressed in monetary contributions by the United States to the Palestinian Authority (mostly to the security forces and for the paving of roads that make it easier to provide a continuous transportation infrastructure between the enclaves of Area A) and for the UN Relief and Works Agency. (The United States is the main donor to the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees.) So when they speak about the two-state solution, that seems farther off than ever before, the official Palestinians in fact are aiming for the short term first: They do not want the so-called political respectability that they acquired for themselves and that the diplomatic corps ascribes to them to collapse.

Nor do they want the semi-sovereignty they achieved in the small Area A enclaves — and which the Palestinian public has gotten used to more than they are willing to admit — to collapse. Will Trump, with his zigzagging statements and on account of his ignorance, along with the Republicans who will now control both houses of Congress, decide to reduce or even end these contributions to the PA?

Will Trump, in his victorious bullying, relate to the Palestinian leadership as he would to a hostile terrorist organization, or will there be someone who will explain to him that a well-functioning Palestinian Authority is actually good for Israel and for the policies of his party?

At the same time, how will the lack of clarity over Trump’s foreign policy affect Palestinian diplomacy and relations within Fatah? Is it possible — without any connection to Trump — to expect any changes at all as long as Abbas stands at the top of the pyramid?

There is no need for a diplomatic cloak to hide the true emotions of the Palestinian people toward Trump. The insane election campaign in the United States, in which what the two candidates had in common was the great number of Americans who detested them, strengthened the popular Palestinian mantra of the common folk: America is experiencing a “decline of the generations.”

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Every superpower eventually falls from glory, and not even the United States is exempt from this. And as it falls, Israel will also be weakened. After the initial shock, the election of the misogynist owner of beauty contests is interpreted as simply a continuation of the decline.

This is a logical but not political analysis, because it is usually brought as a justification for sitting and doing nothing until the years and the wheel of fortune take their toll. A sort of nonreligious version of the custom of citing verses from the Koran that prophesy the punishment of the Israelites because they sinned and did not do what was right in the eyes of God.

Trump’s victory, certainly in the short- and medium-term, is interpreted as a shot of encouragement for Israel’s policies in the territories. It may increase the feeling of Palestinian orphanhood, but not dramatically so, it would seem. It will neither change nor stop the two contradictory trends that characterize the leadership of Palestinian society today: On one hand, the privatized uprising, the “suicide by soldier” on the part of young people whose political and personal motivations are blended together. On the other hand, the flight from politics, the flight from the possibility of a general, popular uprising, almost-normal life in the enclaves, culture, aspirations for a good education for the children, problems of low wages and the complaints about a failing health care system, etc. As if the Israeli occupation did not exist.