Donald Trump’s diplomatic style looks different than the political minefield, which virtually every American president had tried to navigate over the life of American engagement in the Palestinian–Israeli conflict. Tallying up the scorecard reveals the abysmal progress over decades of prodding the parties toward a viable and lasting peace.
Trump’s remarks on Thursday in Davos, Switzerland ahead of his meeting with Israel’s Netanyahu saying that “We’ll see what happens with the peace process but respect has to be shown to the US or we'll just not going any further” is tantamount to inserting the US as a secondary party to the conflict. This statement forces Palestinian negotiators to redirect their attention to managing the hostile dynamic with the US instead of focusing on Israel, the other party to the conflict.
But are Trump’s declarations combined with cutting off aid to the Palestinians bad things? I don’t think so. It is better for all parties to drop their masks and negotiate on truthful and realistic grounds. I would have given Trump credit for his courage to reposition the US role in a way that mirrors reality, but unfortunately he didn’t.
Break the cycle
It seems that Trump in his attempt to break the cycle of failed US policies toward the Palestinian-Israeli conflict took Jerusalem off of the negotiations table, as it were. Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, which prejudice final negotiations between the conflicting parties. Further, he cut aid pledged to the UN fund for Palestinian refugees down to $60 million while aid to Israel continues at $3.8 billion (yes, that’s with a “B”) a year. Trump summarizes the intent behind his policies by saying that the Palestinians are “going to have to want to make peace, or we're going to have nothing to do with them any longer.” Two things must be kept in mind here; one, that whatever the US policy is for now is tied to the Trump administration. The new American position will be revealed with a new president in 2020 or 2024. The challenge is for the Palestinians to avoid losing much ground until then. Two, that the court of public opinion has rendered its verdict judging for the Palestinians. This is a rare opportunity for them to present a different Palestinian face, one that is reasonable, calm and principled in achieving a better future for its citizens on the basis of justice and peaceful resistance. The Palestinian cause has been overshadowed by violent resistance over the decades. The morality discussion over this point is irrelevant because violence was and continues to be a failed strategy on any level.
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Soft power is more effective in the digital age we live in. Perhaps it is a lesson that can be learned from nefarious actors, be it the Russian model in influencing American public opinion during the presidential elections or Jihadist decentralized digital warriors who created their own online strategy without getting clearances or authorizations from their leaders, some were not even members of any terrorist group.
Palestinians have a story to share and it is time to create relatable human suffering and perseverance that people around the world, specially Americans, can sympathize with. Palestinians can look at the Jewish model in the US to see how they did it. There is almost no an American child who does not know Anne Frank; the young Jewish diarist who was murdered by the Nazis in the holocaust, a story that we all have sympathy for.
No publishers needed. Create stories and visual materials through social media campaigns by empowering the people to tell their own stories. Once the word “Palestinian” confers a human image of quiet pride and reasonable demands, Americans will exert pressure on their elected officials to balance the political and financial support the US provides to Israel.
Although American sympathy for Israel remains around 46% while support for Palestinians at 16% according to the latest Pew Research Center poll published earlier this month, we notice a subtle change. There is an increased number of republicans who are now in support of Israel while more democrats are in favor of Palestinians; a noteworthy change that is not apparent in the overall percentage, which didn’t change much since 1978. The US will remain the most influential player beyond the conflicting parties and must be accounted for as such. Therefore, Palestinians must understand and approach the American political system with a strategic eye and should deal with Trump through his own framework and strategy.
Trump’s approach is confusing negotiating for money with negotiating for the dignity of a nation and the affirmation of Palestinians’ history and culture. The position of the Palestinians, as is that of the Israelis, is grounded in tangible demands that mimic positions negotiated by businessmen and women over bottom-line and monetary gains. But it couldn’t be farther from it. The oversimplification of the peace process by forcing a business-like approach upon the parties will inevitably cause the deepening of the conflict.
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Engaging in peace negotiations is conditional upon parties’ voluntary willingness to come to the table. Otherwise, any possible agreement forced upon the process by coercing a party into negotiating under duress for the sole purpose of appeasing the facilitator becomes null and void. Palestinian negotiators have to answer to their people when and if an agreement is reached.
The two-state solution is increasingly becoming unrealistic. The latest Israeli position suggests institutionally legitimizing apartheid. If Israel wants the authority to control security over the Palestinians for the purpose of protecting itself, then it must balance its authority with an equivalent level of responsibility toward the Palestinians. Israel must accept its role as an occupying force. In light of its refusal to allow Palestinians the right of self-determination it must absorb the people of historic Palestine as Israeli citizens with full rights and responsibilities.
Walid Jawad is a former Senior Policy Analyst at US Department of State and a former Washington, DC correspondent. He covered American politics for a number of TV outlets since 1997. Walid holds an undergraduate degree (BA) in Decision Science and Management Information Systems and a Masters in Conflict Analysis and Resolution. You can follow him @walidaj.
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