Feature: After Trump's Jerusalem Move Palestinians Face a New, Grim Reality

Published December 20th, 2017 - 03:00 GMT
Al Bawaba
Al Bawaba

 

  • On Dec. 8, U.S. President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel
  • The move brought widespread condemnations and protests
  • But Palestinian youth do not see any prospsect for a better future under the status quo
  • The beginnings of a new Palestinian movement for rights may be forming

 

By Ty Joplin

 

A new geopolitical reality has emerged for Palestine. The prospect for a two-state solution is fading and the future of Palestinian rights looks uncertain. Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel marks a turning point in the Israeli/Palestinian struggle.

Palestinians are on their own to fill the void being left by the two-state solution's slow crumble, which is falling upon its youth to pick up the pieces. 

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Amman is known to be one of the quietest capital cities in the Middle East. But on Dec. 8, two days after Trump’s announcement that the U.S. now recognizes Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel, thousands flooded Amman’s streets and center city to voice their outrage.

After Friday’s prayers, massive demonstrations shut down streets as Palestinian keffiyehs and flags waved towards the sky. Outside the U.S. Embassy, hundreds gathered, at times pressed against Jordanian riot police, who were deployed en masse to ensure no protester got anywhere near the gates to the Embassy.

Demonstrators burned Israeli flags and photos of Donald Trump while chanting that Jerusalem is, will be, and always has been, the capital of Palestine. More than anyone else, the chants were heard by and repeated by other Palestinians, who find themselves alone in fighting for their future.

World leaders are stuck, mouths agape, at Trump’s erratic obstructionism, but beyond the petrified leadership stand young Palestinians, disillusioned by the U.S., Israel and their own even politicians, who are waiting to take up the demand for civil rights themselves.

As Arab state leaders and analysts alike decried Trump’s decision as one that would halt the Israeli/Palestinian peace process, ground began to shift and move and continues to do so in quiet rumbles.

Trump's announcement may turn out to be exactly what young Palestinians need to jumpstart a new movement demanding their rights.

 

"A Dishonest Broker" of Peace

Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence (Saul Loeb/AFP)

 

On Dec. 6, U.S. President Donald Trump announced that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a move that every other U.S. President has avoided in the past due to its potential to derail the ongoing peace process.

Jerusalem was originally intended by the U.N. to be governed as an international city, and its eastern sector was under the control of Jordan before the Israeli army seized it in the 1967 war--a move that sabotaged any effort to make Jerusalem neutral, peaceful territory.

Recognizing the whole of Jerusalem for either side has been widely seen as a fatal blow to negotiating a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine. The two-state solution has long been the diplomatic target, but now it seems more imperiled than ever.

Put simply, the biggest hope to secure Palestinian rights, the two-state solution, is looking less feasible by the day. As its prospects fade, so too does the ability for Palestine to rely on others to secure its future.

The U.S. has been one of the main arbiters between both embattled nations. But now, “the thin fig leaf that the US tried to keep while playing the role of a mediator in the so called peace process is no longer there,” says Dr. Khaled Al-Hroub, professor of Middle East studies at Northwestern University in Qatar and senior research fellow at the Center of Islamic Studies at the University of Cambridge.

“The depiction of the U.S. as a dishonest broker captures today's reality as seen by any sane person… such self-disqualification by the US of its role effectively ends the American monopoly in this respect and opens the way for other players.”

 

A Palestinian woman throws rocks during a demonstration in Ramallah, Palestine on Dec. 13 (Abbas Momani/AFP)

 

Almost immediately after Trump’s announcement, Arab and Muslim leaders spoke out with a righteous but defeated tone. Trump started and won a diplomatic conflict with Palestinian leadership and the Arab world in just one speech.

“He destroyed the two-state solution,” Saeb Erekat, the Secretary General of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), told reporters.

"This is a reward to Israel," Chairman of the PLO Mahmoud Abbas declared, explaining that "the U.S. can no longer function as a diplomatic sponsor and [peace] mediator."

Turkish President Recep Erdogan called Israel a child-murdering ‘terrorist state,’ while the U.N. and EU called for a calm return to the negotiating table--a process that has so far failed to produce anything tangible in terms of rights protections for the Palestinian people.

But it became clear Trump didn’t want to return to the table--he wanted to flip it over.

According to Ian Black, The Guardian’s former Middle East editor, current Visiting Senior Fellow at the London School of Economics’ Middle East Center and author of the new book  “Enemies and Neighbours: Enemies and Neighbours: Arabs and Jews in Palestine and Israel, 1917-2017,” “the world entered into “unchartered territory,” thanks to “an unpredictable man in the White House.”

All the obvious signs point towards the closing off of diplomatic space to negotiate a peace deal, but few global powers are in any position to take its place.

Dr. Al-Hroub, along with Senior Fellow of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, Dr. Barak Mendelsohn, think that two major potential players could be the EU and Russia, powers that, if involved, would not act “in [the] U.S. and Israel's interest.”

 

 

At a glance, the EU and Russia seem to be the best-poised to begin striking a deal in the perhaps the most obstinate political conflict of modern history.

The EU includes some of the wealthiest and most influential nations including France, Germany, Spain, and Italy.

Russia too has taken a more active role in shaping Middle East politics. Its aerial and ground campaign in Syria helped turned the tide of the Syrian Civil War firmly in Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s favor.

Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin, also condemned Trump’s Jerusalem move as one that would “destabilize” an “already difficult situation in the region,” and unravel the peace process--wording that implies Russia may want to step in to stabilize and repair any damage the U.S. causes.

As world leaders position themselves for more active involvement, Palestinian people have been forced to be involved, unable to leave their future in the hands of career politicians or Presidents who use their cause for political gain but offer little in genuine help.

 

The Two-State Solution Stalls

Donald Trump speaking at an American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) event in 2016, (AFP/File)

 

Ian Black argues that the biggest problem for Russia, the EU or any other global power seeking to spearhead peace negotiation is simply this: no other country or international body in the world has the leverage over Israel that the U.S. does.

“I don’t see that Moscow can replace Washington as a significant actor in peace processes.” Besides some basic security talks in Syria, there is little giving Russia power over Israel.

As for the EU, Black claims it cannot push Israel too hard for fear of drawing the ire of the U.S. The U.S. has veto power of any U.N. Security Council resolution that could hurt Israel--a power it routinely employs, including with a resolution that was debated on Dec. 18 which sought to reassert the status of Jerusalem after Trump’s move.

At the same time, Palestinian leadership seems stuck in to a losing diplomatic battle, trying to salvage what they can of a two-state solution while slowly losing their legitimacy as their base, particularly Palestinian youth, become more jaded and disheartened with their leaders.

Even though Mahmoud Abbas defiantly stated that the U.S. could no longer be a mediator and the two-state solution is dead in the water, Ian Black thinks Abbas and his colleagues at the PLO have little other choice than to continue cooperating with Israel and the U.S.

“I do not believe that the Palestinian leadership can write off the two-state solution… Its fate, its history, is too bound up in the two-state solution. They can’t give up their quest for independence.”

On top of that, regional powers could pressure Palestinian leadership to stay seated at the negotiating table. “Arab states such as Saudi Arabia may be less likely to come out with their warming relations with Israel but as long as shared interests dictate cooperation it will continue to take place,” argues Dr. Mendelsohn. In other words, Palestinian leadership may be goaded into accepting Trump’s decision for now.

The emerging aftermath of Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem seems to be this: diplomatic space to productively negotiate a two-state solution has been stifled, even as world and regional leaders are intractibly locked into such negotiations.

All this leaves the Palestinian people alone and leaderless in championing their cause.

 

 Rumblings on the Ground

A demonstration takes place outside the U.S. Embassy in Amman on Dec. 7, (Khalil Mazraawi/AFP)

 

While meetings hastily took place in Arab capitals and men in suits met in Istanbul to reject Trump’s move, youth in Amman wrapped themselves in Palestinian scarves and spoke out about the travesty of Trump’s foreign policy objectives.

“The Jordanian and Palestinian people are one and undivided,” a young demonstrator told reporters outside the American Embassy in Amman. “These protests are meant to let our voice reach Trump and other people like him. This Embassy and the people in charge of it won’t affect us.”

The intended audience of the demonstrations' messages is other Palestinians, not the world at large. Protests seem to be aimed at mobilizing people on the ground rather than compelling a strong international response, which many have already abandoned hopes to receive.

 

 

When asked if Trump’s Jerusalem move has opened up space from the ground up, Ian Black is cautious but upbeat. “Maybe…That’s the interesting question.”

To many young Palestinians, Trump’s move is counterintuitively a moment of political revelation, where the U.S. has finally come clean about its position towards the Israel/Palestine conflict. From here, Palestinians cannot rely on current negotiations, which are hopelessly stuck talking in circles about a seemingly mythical two-state solution.

An emerging voice is calling for Palestinians to, “abandon the illusion of a two-state solution and to work for [Palestinian] rights,” says Ian Black.

Such abandonment also means the disavowment of the current Palestinian political system, which now appears more as an obstacle to the people than a tool of empowerment.

 

Breaking from Palestine's 'Gilded Cage' 

Protesters sit outside the White House in Washington D.C. during Friday’s prayers to protest Trump’s decision (AFP)

 

In the wake of Trump’s move, the Palestinian Center for Policy & Survey Research (PCPSR) based out of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, surveyed young Palestinians. The results reflect a growing discontent with Palestine’s old guard. 70% of those polled demand Abbas’ resignation and most also demand the end of the joint Fatah-Hamas attempt at creating a reconciliation government.

Most also claim the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian arm of governance in Palestinian territories, is corrupt.

When asked about the relationship between Palestinian youth and leadership, Dr. Khalil Shikaki, director of the PCPSR, speaks in a quiet but matter-of-fact tone. “The youth are extremely alienated from the domestic environment. They’re very angry at their own leaders, and they’re very angry with their own political system.”

Fundamentally, there has been a break of trust between the leadership and youth: young Palestinians want to see a serious and sustained effort from their leaders to confront the U.S. and Israel in an effort to pressure for more rights, but the leadership does not seem willing or able to do so.

The overwhelming feeling both in the streets and in the offices of scholars and analysts is that the current leadership has no ability to rally young Palestinians to their cause. Palestinians also cannot count on regional powers, making them alone.

In this hole, young Palestinians have little else to rely on besides themselves to ensure their human and civil rights are protected. In the wake of Trump potentially ending hopes for independence from Israel, the political calculus is changing on the ground.

Mahmoud Abbas is “locked into a gilded cage to what remains of Oslo,” Black states bluntly, in reference to the 1993 and 1995 Oslo Accords which binded Palestinian leadership to a political vision of a two-state solution that now seems a distant possibility.

Abbas is “trapped.”

 

A Palestinian protester recoils back to throw a rock during protests, (AFP)

 

In being pushed out of or renouncing the Palestinian Authority, young Palestinians are in a position to organize away from the Abbas’ gilded cage.

From there, they can develop set of demands to pressure Israel--a vision crafted independently from the two-state solution.

It is unclear when or if a popular push from the ground-up will occur, but some, including Nadia Hijab, executive director of Al-Shabaka, a non-profit dedicated to voicing Palestinian voices, are optimistic. “We will certainly be seeing a move by Palestinian civil society more broadly, including youth, to pressure the Palestinian leadership”

But Dr. Shikaki has little hope for a strong movement to form in the near future. “If you go to social media. you’ll find that this is where the youth are. Unfortunately, not in the streets.”

However, Dr. Shikaki is also quick to point out that young Palestinians in universities are active and are well-organized, but need to expand their reach to begin mobilizing those not currently enrolled in school. If they can do this, they stand a chance at forming a popular and influential movement that could radically change the status quo.

 

The Future of Palestinian Rights

Protests on Dec. 10 outside in the Shmaisani district of Amman, (Salim Essaid/Al Bawaba)

 

A few blocks outside the offices of Al Bawaba on Dec. 10, during a clear skied workday, hundreds gathered in a show of solidarity with Palestine. Chanting slogans regarding the liberation of Jerusalem, the protest was one of countless others that have sprung up organically and consistently.

A speaker with a megaphone shouted from steps of a nearby building, demanding the liberation of Jerusalem. In an apparent reference to Trump, the speaker, a middle aged man surrounded by banners and flags, made his case: “brothers... the least we can do is to not receive this slaughterer,” into Jerusalem.

It is difficult to go through Amman, a city with millions of Palestinian refugees and descendents, without running into a conversation about the future of Palestine or the ongoing marginalization of the Palestinian people.

Although it is early to tell with any certainty, Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel may be a watershed moment, one that revealed the impossibility of maintaining the status quo, and one that will galvanize Palestinian youth to re-enter the political sphere as a formidable body dedicated to realizing their rights, which have been abused and thrown aside by some and utterly forgotten by others.

Even if an emergent movement from Palestinians is doomed to fail, they cannot afford to follow the lead of their politicians and world leaders in abandoning it, since the cause is their very lives. 


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