Trump and the Palestinians: A Look Back at the Last Four Years

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A demonstrator holds an anti-U.S. President Donald Trump placard during a rally, organized by the Palestinian Liberation Organization to protest against Israel's plan to annex parts of the West Bank, in Jericho, June 22, 2020.
A demonstrator holds an anti-U.S. President Donald Trump placard during a rally, organized by the Palestinian Liberation Organization to protest against Israel's plan to annex parts of the West Bank, Credit: Mohamad Torokman/Reuters

The Trump administration’s policy towards the Palestinians was very different than that of previous American administrations. It started with an awkward press conference in the White House in 2017, and ended with historic normalization agreements between Israel and Gulf states three years later. In between was a dramatic announcement on moving the American embassy, and cruel aid cuts that even officials in Israel tried to prevent, to no avail.

When Trump entered the White House in January 2017, there was a lot of confusion regarding his policy on the Israeli-Palestinian front. That confusion only grew stronger a month later, when Prime Minister Netanyahu arrived for an official visit, and Trump, in front of the cameras, refused to express support or commitment to a two-state solution, breaking away from a policy position that both Republican and Democratic administration had supported for the previous two decades.

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Trump said that he wants to get a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, "The Ultimate Deal," something past presidents tried to achieve but failed. Yet by the end of his first year in office, he had grown tired of the complex negotiations between the two sides and the shuttle diplomacy of his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner.

Instead of a deal with the Palestinians, he made one with Christian Evangelicals, by announcing the move of the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, to the delight of this crucial voting bloc. White Evangelicals supported Trump more than any other religious or demographic group in 2016, and by "giving Jerusalem" to Israel, as Trump described his policy change, he made sure to win their support once again in 2020.

The Palestinian reaction to the embassy announcement was to cut all ties with the Trump administration. Trump, in retaliation, cut all U.S. civilian aid to the Palestinians, punishing civilians in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem while ironically continuing to send U.S. funds to the Palestinian Authority security forces. The cuts included ending American support for cancer patients and eye treatments for children, and axing the funding intended for programs that encourage cooperation and dialogue between Jews and Palestinians.

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Some of these cuts were opposed by Israeli officials, especially from Israel’s security establishment, which views humanitarian and civilian assistance as helpful to maintaining calm and stability in the Palestinian arena. But their pleas didn’t change the decision.

Trump eventually did get a big diplomatic deal to celebrate, but it ended up involving no Palestinians at all. Instead, it was a deal between Israel and two rich countries in the Gulf – Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

For the Palestinians, the deal was disappointing, leading to accusations of betrayal by the Arab world. But it did include one temporary compromise from the Israeli side, as Netanyahu had to delay his promise to right-wing voters in Israel to unilaterally annex settlements. 

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