Trump may be a good thing for Palestinians

If the charade ends, Israel will have to confront a harsh reality.
Sunday 04/03/2018
A Palestinian demonstrator reacts as tear gas is fired by Israeli troops during a protest against Jewish settlements near Tubas in the occupied West Bank, February 25.   	 (Reuters)
Ongoing struggle. A Palestinian demonstrator reacts as tear gas is fired by Israeli troops during a protest against Jewish settlements near Tubas in the occupied West Bank, February 25. (Reuters)

US President Donald Trump may be just the president who the Palestinian people — if not the Palestinian Authority — most needed. Historians may look back and declare that the Trump presidency freed the Palestinian people to pursue their national, civil and human rights.

In the short term, Trump has been a disaster for the Palestinians. He entered office pledging to use his supposed deal-making skills to bring about peace between Israelis and Palestinians. He then appointed a negotiating team that consisted of his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and two lawyers who had worked for the Trump organisation, one of whom he selected to be US ambassador to Israel.

The men shared three things: a history of supporting the Israeli settler movement, no diplomatic experience and deep personal devotion to Trump.

Trump met with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Nice words were said by all and Trump announced that his crack negotiating team had started work on a comprehensive peace proposal.

In December, Trump announced that he was moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem and recognising the city as Israel’s capital. Jerusalem, he said, was “off the table” and no longer an item for negotiation. Palestinians responded with justified outrage and said Washington no longer was a reliable and impartial mediator. Abbas desperately tried to secure support from Brussels, Moscow and the United Nations.

On his swing through the Middle East in February, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who has had no discernible role in the process, said the US peace proposal was well along and soon would be unveiled.

Rumours about the Trump plan vary widely and wildly. One is that Trump will propose that a new Palestinian state be carved out of Egypt’s northern Sinai with Gaza tacked on. Presumably, Palestinians in the occupied West Bank would relocate there.

There has been no confirmation that this is what Trump’s team will propose but its essence is very Trumpian: The New York billionaire deals in real estate. Land is land, a building is a building. Why not just move the Palestinians from their West Bank condo into a new condo in the Sinai? What’s the difference?

Whatever the US plan consists of — assuming one exists — this much is certain: It will be embraced by Israelis, who probably have drafted most of it, and rejected by Palestinians. Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia will be loath to insult Trump but are unlikely to openly support any plan rolled out by Kushner’s team.

Consider this: Kushner is under investigation for a range of suspected wrongdoings and CNN has reported that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly stripped Kushner of access to top secret information.

Add to this the fact that the three national leaders involved — Trump, Netanyahu and Abbas — have dismal approval ratings among their own people and Netanyahu may soon be ushered out the door.

If Las Vegas oddsmakers have established a line for whether the peace process will be revived, I am betting my life savings against it. That is why this moment is good news for the Palestinian people.

The peace process charade is over. Since the signing of the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian Authority has put all its eggs in the American basket and what it has received in return is metastasising Israeli settlements in the West Bank, facts on the ground designed to render a Palestinian state an impossibility. The world screamed in outrage when Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital but for years Israel has been systematically choking off East Jerusalem with nary a complaint.

The end of the charade will be celebrated by right-wing Israelis but they will be foolish to do so. For the charade, which included security cooperation between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, made it possible for them to carry out their strategy in a remarkably peaceful environment.

If the charade ends, Israel will have to confront a harsh reality: About half of the population west of the Jordan River is Palestinian and their proportion is growing. They are not moving away — least of all to northern Sinai.

Israel has no vision for dealing with this reality that is neither compatible with any criteria of justice, civil rights or human dignity nor acceptable to the Palestinian people. This is why Trump’s imminent immolation of the peace process offers the Palestinians an opportunity, a ripe moment to create their own vision of how the land west of the Jordan should be organised — politically, socially and economically.

The Palestinian people live under brutal occupation but this is their moment to put forth an enlightened vision of how two traumatised peoples can peacefully share one cherished land. Sound impossible? Remember: It was Nelson Mandela, not the Afrikaner government, who led South Africa out of Apartheid.