Donald Trump is pushing the Palestinians into a corner, beating up on them while they’re there and humiliating them in the process – and all this, we are told, in order to convince them to return to the negotiating table. The Palestinians started boycotting U.S. officials because of Trump’s unilateral decision to move the American embassy to Jerusalem in the first place, but the U.S. president’s guiding principle appears to be that if pressure doesn’t do the trick, more pressure will. The more the Palestinians are tormented, the more they will succumb and surrender, but even if they don’t, Benjamin Netanyahu, Sheldon Adelson and millions of evangelicals will still be happy – perhaps even happier.
The closing of the PLO office in Washington is but the latest in an accelerating series of blows inflicted on the Palestinians by the Trump White House and the GOP Congress. Trump is storming the Palestinians on multiple fronts, with all the formidable powers at his disposal. He sides with Israel in all situations and censures Palestinians at every turn. He cajoled Arab countries to keep their distance and is trying to dislodge the Palestinians from the United Nations and other international bodies as well. With imperial edicts, he purports to dismiss cardinal Palestinian demands on issues such as Jerusalem and refugees and to take them permanently, as he puts it, off the table.
Trump is also cutting direct and indirect aid to the Palestinians and defunding organizations that help them, such as UNRWA. He has even gone so far as to callously cut the $25 million that the U.S. gave East Jerusalem hospitals to fund cancer treatments for Palestinians. Trump's message is crystal clear: If you don’t do as I say, you can drop dead for all I care.
With planning by Netanyahu, execution by Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer, assistance from U.S. Ambassador David Friedman, and the active encouragement of the heavy donors and messianic believers who are regular guests at the White House, Trump’s policy is the Israeli right wing’s sweet dream come true. What could be better than a U.S. president who gives Israel a blank cheque to do as it pleases, who couldn’t care less about West Bank settlements or the indignities of the occupation, and who has now embraced the right’s dogma on the Palestinians: Stand fast, never surrender, lower their expectations, dispel their delusions, close all escape routes and bring them down to reality on the ground, injured and shamed.
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History, however, teaches an important lesson on the unintended consequences of national humiliation: Such policies tend to spur nationalism, spark motivation and entrench the determination of those on the receiving end to fight and seek revenge for their lost honor. Such policies leave an open and festering wound, which heals slowly, if at all.
In exactly one week, China will mark “National Humiliation Day” in memory of its debasement by Japan and Western powers in the 19th and 20th centuries, a resentment that fuels Beijing’s tough expansionist policies in the Far East to this very day. India is still fighting the ghosts of British colonialism, Russia grieves for its days of superpower glory, Turkey has yet to recover from the loss of the Ottoman Empire and the Arab world continues to wallow in the trauma of its perceived humiliation by Christianity and the West. No matter how many years have passed, the scars of past humiliations remain raw throughout the world, from Africa to South America, from Eastern Europe to Western Asia.
The U.S. itself was created when Americans rebelled against Britain’s degrading and humiliating tax policies, and the nation is still coming to terms with the national humiliation it suffered 17 years ago on September 11, when the Twin Towers of New York's World Trade Center were destroyed in a terror attack. For the Jewish people, the fight against humiliation by foreign powers is nothing less than a national ethos, from the Maccabees through Masada to the rise of Zionism and the establishment of the Jewish state.
Trump and Netanyahu apparently believe that the Palestinians are an exception to the rule. The two leaders seem to be operating under an assumption that they are weaker and more compliant, that degradation will lead to their submission, isolation to their capitulation and humiliation to their acceptance of a peace plan that ignores their core demands or, alternatively, to their willingness to live as obedient and deprived subjects of a constantly encroaching Israeli annexation. By pursuing such policies, Trump and Netanyahu are creating a time bomb, with no knowledge – and possibly no intention – of neutralizing it before it blows up in Israel’s face