Opinion |

Why Palestinians Have Already Given Up on Trump

Trump wants to play peacemaker, but he has a weak opening position: zero credibility among Palestinians, thanks to his aversion to the words 'Palestinian state' and 'Israeli occupation'

Hisham Sharabati
Hisham Sharabati
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Palestinian demonstrators denounce Donald Trump's visit with the slogan: "US policy is shameful to humanity" in support of the hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, Qalandia Checkpoint, West Bank. May 22, 2017
Palestinian demonstrators denounce Trump's visit: "US policy is shameful to humanity", in support of the hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, Qalandiya checkpoint. May 22, 2017 Credit: ABBAS MOMANI/AFP
Hisham Sharabati
Hisham Sharabati

The Palestinian public has learned by bitter experience not to trust either U.S. governments or any of the American presidents who have served during the long years of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

In the eyes of the Palestinian public, while America blindly supports Israel with billions of dollars every year, it has consistently used its veto right in the UN security council against resolutions attempting to protect the Palestinians from Israeli violations of their human rights.

Some Palestinians expressed hope and expectations for progress with the Clinton administration, until the Palestinian-Israeli talks fell apart and the second Intifada erupted. Some retained those hopes after Barak Obama's election. But as the U.S. continued its one-sided support to Israel under his administration too, those hopes were eventually lost.

Despite the commentaries declaring optimism, the vast majority of Palestinians, and the wider Arab or Muslim public, do not hold believe the Trump administration offers them any positive prospects.

His election campaign targeted Muslims and Arab and Islamic countries, even those considered as the U.S.'s strategic allies. Trump deliberated tried to humiliate Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries, saying without American protection those countries would not survive; he said that Kuwait's only distinguishing feature was its wealth, that during Saddam Hussein's occupation Kuwaitis fled while Americans spent money and lost lives to liberate their country without receiving the substantial compensation it 'deserved'.

Trump was very clear about his support to Israel during the campaign, far more than Clinton. His victory triggered relief amongst Israelis, but shock among Palestinians. The Israeli government's attempt to harvest the maximum political gain from Trump's election has only increased tension with the Palestinians.

US President Donald Trump is welcomed by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas at the presidential palace in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. May 23, 2017. Credit: THOMAS COEX/AFP

The Palestinians' greatest disappointment resulted from the backward steps Trump has taken in relation to Israeli settlements and the establishment of a Palestinian state. Israeli government ministers called even more loudly for retracting the very notion of a Palestinian state. Donald Trump has declared a Palestinian state is not an intrinsic part of solving the conflict, and that settlements are not necessarily an obstacle to peace.

Most Palestinians never really believed past talk by the Israeli and American governments on establishing a Palestinian state. The 'state' to which Obama and Netanyahu related involved making small changes only to the current situation – as an 'achievement' to declare the end to the conflict. Trump's positions are taken by Palestinians as a sign that even this declarative aim has now been shelved, and that U.S. diplomacy now even more directly backs Israel's positions.

Trump may have withdrawn his promise to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. But Ambassador David Friedman's contention, that he would move the focus of his work schedule to Jerusalem, is seen by Palestinians as a step that effectively promotes the same policy.

Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia also triggered disappointment for Palestinians. His inclusion of Hamas, which has wide popular support, as a terrorist organization, was a disappointment, although fewer Palestinians expressed unhappiness with the terrorist designations for Iran and Hezbollah.

The deals signed by Trump there are clearly meant to actualize his campaign demands that the Gulf countries pay for American protection. On Facebook, many Palestinians wondered why the Gulf was investing so heavily in arms when those same financial resources could have brought immense humanitarian relief to Gaza, let alone assist the development of poorer Arab states and their poverty-stricken inhabitants.

The Palestinians have had high expectations that the month-long hunger strike by nearly 1500 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons for better conditions would not only achieve its aims, but on the way would expose the Israeli authorities to significant negative publicity, not least if the health of the hunger strikers deteriorated seriously during Trump's visit. This hasn't happened, and tension regarding the strike is rising to critical levels in the West Bank, Gaza and among Palestinians in the diaspora. Further protests are inevitable.

A Palestinian demonstrator steps on a poster depicting U.S. President Donald Trump and reading "America is the head of terrorism" during a protest in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. May 22, 2017Credit: IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/REUTERS

Another factor raising the temperature on the Palestinian street were reports that Donald Trump's advisors nixed his visit to Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity because of the presence of a protest tent in support of the hunger strikers in Manger Square. There was widespread Palestinian anger, not only among the families of the detainees, that American security officials had asked for the tent's removal as a pre-condition for the president's visit.

Palestinian intellectuals and political activists are pessimistic about the real goal of Donald Trump's visit. They consider it likely that his game plan is to restart negotiations to pressure the Palestinians to agree on yet another transitional agreement, one that would not guarantee freezing the expansion of settlements expansion, nor of land confiscation in the West Bank. Many believe Donald Trump's administration will not take any meaningful action to preserve the already-endangered potential viability of a future Palestinian state, and will empower Israel's policy of colonization in the West Bank.

Hisham Sharabati is a Palestinian political analyst living in Hebron, a field worker with the Palestinian human rights organization AlHaq and an activist with the Hebron Defense Committee.

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