Trump's Jerusalem Move Vetoed the US Out of Peace Negotiations: Q&A with Journalist Daoud Kuttab

Published December 7th, 2017 - 04:32 GMT
Daoud Kuttab is an award winning journalist, born in Bethlehem, who has worked in Jerusalem covering the occupation and fighting for press freedom in both Palestinian and Israeli media. (Al Bawaba)
Daoud Kuttab is an award winning journalist, born in Bethlehem, who has worked in Jerusalem covering the occupation and fighting for press freedom in both Palestinian and Israeli media. (Al Bawaba)

by Salim Essaid

On Wednesday, U.S. President Donald Trump made a historic announcement that is predicted to alter the political landscape of the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations.

“Today, we finally acknowledge the obvious: that Jerusalem is Israel's capital. This is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality. It is also the right thing to do. It's something that has to be done,” he said.

U.S. President Donald Trump signs a memorandum recognising Jerusalem as Israel's capital on December 6, 2017. SAUL LOEB (AFP)

Many have lauded him for officially stating the hard truth while others say in one abrasive move, Trump betrayed allies worldwide and has effectively ejected the U.S. from its leadership role in arbitrating a two-state solution for Palestinians and Israelis with one fell swoop after decades of sensitive diplomacy.

Daoud Kuttab is an award winning journalist, born in Bethlehem, who has worked in Jerusalem covering the occupation  and fighting for press freedom in both Palestinian and Israeli media. 

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Al Bawaba spoke to Kuttab and asked him why he thought President Trump would make this announcement and what he hopes to gain by it?

“I can’t predict why he made the announcement but I can analyze that the biggest contributor to his campaign was Sheldon Edilson who is a pro-Israeli American hawk. So I think this is a kind of payback to his base and to the donors that gave him money. As well as to his vice president who is very much a supporter of Israel and from the Christian Zionist perspective.

I did a word search for his speech, he mentioned Israel and Israelis 21 times and he mentioned Americans four times. So for an America first president, he did not give much attention to American’s interests.”

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What is the impact of making such an announcement? Will there be a change on the ground?

“Well I mean initially after Trump made his speech yesterday he signed a six month waiver so already there is no actionable decision made on the moving of the embassy despite the rhetoric about it.

In reality yes, I mean the big question is the fact that East Jerusalem is occupied and that will not change whether there is an embassy or not. I think the question will be whether the Americans will be in isolation in making this move or whether other countries of importance will follow them.

The European Union already said no, Canada said no Japan has said no. So it’s going to make America look very isolated if they carry out this decision, if after six months they will not sign this next waiver.”

 

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Trump said that “we are not taking a position” on the two state solution. President Mahmoud Abbas responded that with this announcement the U.S. has withdrawn from the decades of negotiations. So has the U.S. given up its leadership in Palestinian-Israeli relations or do you believe that Abbas will eventually return to the negotiating table with the U.S. once the storm has passed?

"The problem with the American negotiations is that America is the only party that can influence Israel. The problem with the Palestinian Israeli conflict is not about finding the right formula or whatever, it’s about you know.. getting the Israelis to accept a compromise.

And in a way that’s why the Palestinians engaged with the Americans not because they trusted them. They never really trusted them but they always thought Americans have enough or will have enough fairness to pressure Israel to come to the table with realistic solutions.

What happened with the Jerusalem issue is basically it unmasked the last kind of straw with the Americans and I think anybody with integrity cannot continue to work with the Americans if they are so irresponsible in creating tensions and possibly a bloodbath and people getting killed for nothing except to please a small group of his followers. So it’s a very disappointing situation."

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U.N. Chief Antonio Guterres said “There is no alternative to the two state solution, there’s no plan B.” So if with this announcement the two state solution comes to a sudden end, has everything up to this point, from the ‘95 Oslo Accords to today, been a waste? Did Trump just effectively say occupation and war will reign forever?

“If we can succeed in an end to the American negotiations we will be free to pursue other efforts to try to pressure Israel. The BDS movement, non-violent protests and campaigns against Israel have to be raised and escalated because that is one of the only hopes we really have is for the international community to make Israel pay the price for its occupation.

Otherwise it will last for many many years. America is not going to be fair, America is not going to be able to pressure Israel so why are we wasting our time with them.”

President Trump has unified Palestinians, unified Arabs, almost the whole world against him. There is a rare sense of unity that has never existed before and I think if Palestinians are able to engage with this new unity and use it to their advantage.

They can really produce the kind of pressure on Israel that the Americans never tried to use and that is the way we need to look forward. So we can really close this chapter of depending on Americans and look for other ways of producing results.”

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This announcement will lead to protests, flag burning and resentment towards the U.S. So by doing this did Trump just undermine all Arab moderates? Is this just the fuel extremists need?

"I believe that what is happening is increasing the chances of radicalization. I think it’s a gift to radical movements it’s a great tool for people who want to recruit violent extremists. This is the perfect kind of story that they can justify violent action.

What the Americans are trying to do is ram peace down everybody’s throat. This is the peace we want, this is how we want it. Forget about Jerusalem, forget about the Jordan Valley, forget about refugees and we will give you a little of something to celebrate.

That is what Americans and the Israelis are trying to do and that will not hold. No Palestinian leader would sign it, and even if a Palestinian leader would sign it, it would not hold today because people would not buy into it."

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As Custodian of the Holy Sites in Jerusalem, Where does this leave Jordan?

"Jordanians are in a very difficult position. A colleague of mine met with King Abdullah when he came back from Washington a few days ago and he said the king has never been as depressed with Americans, with Washington as he was at this time.

The Americans are really basically violating their own ally. They are basically stabbing friends in the back, they are weakening moderates and they are boldening the radicals can help Jordan with a decision like this.

Jordan was in charge of Jerusalem before ‘67 they came. He’s been entrusted by the Palestinian leadership to be responsible for Christians and Muslims holy places. By doing this without consultation without a buy in from the Palestinians or the Arabs is a formula for disaster."

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In short, where do we go from here?

"I think a number of questions have to be answered. Is this going to be a one off statement and nothing happens or is there going to be actionable work behind it?

The second question is will any country of importance, European countries or Canada, or Japan, China, Russia follow suit? 

And thirdly will the Palestinians engage with Americans again without any conditions, or will there now be much stronger demands that they will only go back to the talks with the Americans if A, B, and C are you know, carried out?  Acceptance to the two-state solution and so on.

These are some of the issues that we have to wait and see, based on that we can decide which direction things are going to go."

Then I asked: Are you hopeful?

"I am not very hopeful at all.. no."

 

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