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Trump, Jerusalem and the Need for a Rebranded Palestinian Leadership
January 27, 2018, 9:55 am

Earlier this week, US Vice-President Mike Pence visited the Knesset confirming both his President’s resolve on the status of the Holy City, and America’s exit from the Peace Process.

This comes weeks after US President Donald Trump declared Jerusalem, full and undivided, as the capital of Israel, and days after the US decided to withhold $65 million of the $125 million it was meant to give the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

UNRWA provides essential life-support and relocates some five million Palestinians displaced in Gaza, the occupied West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

The European Union and broader international community have condemned these decisions, reflected in the UN General Assembly’s (UNGA) 10th Emergency Session, which passed Resolution ES-10/L.22 declaring the status of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital “null and void.”

Drafted largely by Yemen and Turkey, the Resolution passed by 128 votes to 9 against with 35 abstentions.

UNGA Resolutions are non-binding, and so are widely perceived as performative. But this particular performance demonstrates two seismic shifts in current world politics. First is a confirmation of the US’ ostracism from the liberal international community.

With an abstention from Canada and votes in favor from the majority of the EU and all BRICS members, the US and Israel stand out as pariah states similar to Afghanistan and Iran on previous occasions.

This quick succession of heavy blows delivered to Palestine confirms Pence’s alarming proclamation that the current formulation of the Peace Process, and its illusions of progress, as mediated by the US, has ended.

And with the demise of this so-called Peace Process, the foundation of US foreign policy in the Middle East has also been dismantled.

New Allies, Same Old Tricks

By recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a key Netanyahu demand, has the US killed off the peace process? [Xinhua]


Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has called the Jerusalem decision the biggest
‘slap of the century’, but in the face of this post-US world, we see that the Palestinian leadership and the Palestinian people have responded in very different ways.

The Trump Administration approached the Palestinian issue in 2017 seemingly intent on unwinding Barack Obama’s legacy, which ended with Security Council Resolution 2334 in December 2016 that declared the status of illegal Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories in flagrant violation of international law.

Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, which Israel is party to, explicitly prohibits the forcible transfer of peoples into occupied territories, but without international enforcement, Israel went well underway in constructing 6000 new settlements last year.

Although under President Obama the aid package to Israel redoubled, the Resolution instilled in the Palestinian Authority (PA) the belief that the US was easing away from its hardline pro-Israel attitude.

Yet with Trump, any such pretense dissolved with the decision to sign the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, which relocates the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to the Holy City.

Trump has also appointed right-wing extremists such as David Friedman as US Ambassador to Israel, who has repeatedly confirmed his support for Israel and all its little settlements, which saw an unprecedented proliferation in 2017.

The leadership must now engage in an effort to construct a new political setup that does not include the US, which has been a key player in the contested region since the Oslo Accords.

Abbas has so far turned to the EU, asking for their hand in a tripartite deal to recognize Palestine on its 1967 borders, declare Jerusalem as its capital, and bolster aid to compensate for the void left by the US.

While the EU seems intent on salvaging peace talks, with Israel’s intransigence and backed by US support, it is unlikely that the EU with all its diplomatic savoire faire can bulge the Jewish State.

A New Role for the Palestinian Leadership

And while Abbas makes overtures to Palestine’s international allies, the Palestinian people continue to suffer from the daily episodes of violence that unfold in life under occupation, the most controversial of which has been the arrest of 16 year old activist Ahed Tamimi.

Israel has also seized the opportunity to further escalate its apartheid policies, shifting gear toward erecting a ethnocentric nation-state.

Aside from continuous settlement expansion, the Knesset is currently in the process of passing various bills that jeopardize the lives of the already precarious Palestinians.

One such bill is the Jewish Nation-State Bill, which defines Israel exclusively as the “nation home of the Jewish people,” thereby legally outcasting the millions of Palestinian Arabs living in the Occupied Territories.

The bill also proposes the expansion of Israel’s policies into the West Bank, formally annexing what were and continue to be illegal settlements, uniting Jerusalem and encroaching upon Gaza.

The unity agreement signed between Hamas and Fatah in Cairo last October has not yet yielded any results for the two million besieged Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, which was previously Fatah territory but has been subject to an Israeli military siege since 2012.

The Palestinian leadership must move beyond its obsession with political validation and its appeal to monetary support in favor of putting its dispossessed peoples first.

If the leadership fails to transition itself into a new role and brace the implications the US’ withdrawal heralds, it will find itself on the brink of confrontation with the Palestinian people.

Death of Oslo: Goodbye, Good Riddance

As Abbas gives up on the US, there is an increasing concern that the Palestinians have given up on him. Members of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) are calling on Abbas to withdraw any recognition of Israel and dismantle the security cooperation the PA shares with Israel in the Occupied Territories.

Assembled during the Oslo Process, the agreement demarcates various areas of control. Area C, which constitutes approximately 72 percent of the West Bank, falls under complete Israel administration.

What was meant to be a temporary settlement allowed Israel to overextend itself into the Occupied Territories and speed up its settler-colonial process of land grabbing, settlement building and territorial accumulation.

Israel has deployed a number of strategic avenues provided for by Oslo to implement a number of regulations and orders, erect official institutions and create new plans that often work in parallel to their illegal activities.

Each worked toward creating a politics of waiting. Each created a new space for negotiation, and in doing so, each delayed any potential conclusion.

But the PLO and the Palestinians at large are ready to move to a whole new struggle, one that rejects the waiting, the pretense of progress and the settler-colonialism implicit in the “two-state solution.”

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the publisher's editorial policy.

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