Trump’s three strikes against Palestinians

By Claude Salhani

Despite rhetoric claiming that he wants peace and justice for all concerned in the Arab-Israeli dispute, US President Donald Trump appears to have it in for the Palestinians.

His administration has clearly demonstrated by actions that are strictly pro-Israel. Trump’s handling of the issue is pushing the Palestinians away from Washington. As history has shown, the Palestinians cannot remain without a political minder for very long. With the Russians and the Iranians lurking in the shadows, having the Palestinians align themselves with either Tehran or Moscow could be very precarious.

The facts speak for themselves.

Strike one: Ignoring all logic and political advice from Middle East experts, Trump ordered the transfer of the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Many US presidential candidates had during their campaigns for the White House promised to change the location of the embassy in Israel to the contested city of Jerusalem but they never followed up because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Both Israelis and Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital. The question of Jerusalem figures as one of the main points for discussion in any attempt at negotiating a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

This move by the Trump administration on such a central controversy between Israel and the Palestinians leaves the Palestinians in a much weaker position should peace talks restart. With Trump in Washington and Binyamin Netanyahu prime minister of Israel, it would be very surprising to see any narrowing of the great divide that exists between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Strike two: Trump’s policy regarding the Palestinian-Israeli issue is alienating the Palestinians and upsetting many in the Arab world. The closing of the office of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) in Washington invites Palestinians to extremism.

The PLO Washington office was the closest thing the Palestinians had to an embassy in the United States. Its closure brought much criticism and basically killed what little chance there may have been of reviving the Middle East peace process.

The closure of the PLO office came after Trump cancelled a badly needed financial assistance package, which has been yearly granted to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. That money went principally towards paying for health care and education programmes.

Trump’s policy regarding the Palestinians is dangerous and can lead them to extremism and into the arms of Islamists.

With Iran knocking on the door, hoping to influence political discourse in the Palestinian territories, this is no time to leave a vacuum in a part of the world that remains precarious.

It has taken American diplomats decades of behind-the-scenes careful and meticulous negotiations with friends and allies to achieve a minimum level of trust between Washington and the Palestinians. In one quick move, Trump dismantled all that hard work and invited the Palestinians to flirt with the Russians and quite possibly revive the notion that negotiations would lead nowhere and that any solution would come through armed struggle.

Strike three: The Trump administration announced the merger of the US Embassy in Israel with the US Consulate General in Jerusalem. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the merger into a single mission would “improve efficiency and effectiveness.”

“It doesn’t signal a change of US policy. We’re committed achieving a lasting and comprehensive peace between Israel and the Palestinians,” Pompeo said in a release.

David Pearce, former US consul general in Jerusalem, is of a different opinion. In a posting on Twitter, he said Pompeo’s assertion could be nothing further from the truth.

“This is, in fact, a major change in policy,” Pearce said. “It ends independent US representation not only in Jerusalem but also to the Palestinians.”

Pearce spent 10 years as a journalist followed by 35 as a diplomat, mostly in the Middle East. He served as ambassador to Algeria and Greece and held senior positions in Damascus, Kuwait, Baghdad and Kabul and speaks fluent Arabic and Farsi (as well as Italian, French and Portuguese).

Shouldn’t the US government be listening to people such as Pearce who have the experience and in-depth knowledge of the region rather than take provocative decisions that satisfy no one other than Netanyahu’s camp in Israel and its supporters in the United States?

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