Palestine’s leaders are gathering in Ramallah to thrash out a response to Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Trump made his announcement 32 days ago; what has taken them so long? A really dynamic leadership would have acted within hours; under the Palestinian Authority, though, it was left to the extraordinary people of Palestine to vent their anger on the streets.
One of the options on the table is for the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) to withdraw its recognition of Israel. This is something that could have been done within hours of the unprecedented move by the President of the United States. Even by Trump standards, the recognition of Jerusalem was outrageous – being against international law apart from anything else – and it deserved an equally strong response.
Of course, the old guard surrounding the unpopular and uninspiring Mahmoud Abbas will urge caution. Some are already saying that any move that would upset America would in turn jeopardise the “peace process” between the Zionist State and Palestine. The reply to that is obvious: what peace process?
It is clear that it is an illusion. Ever since Abbas became President of the PA exactly 13 years ago, Israel has continued to build more illegal settlements, to steal more Palestinian land and to demolish more Palestinian homes. While the territory earmarked for an independent State of Palestine has shrunk on an almost daily basis, Israel has extended its de facto borders at an alarming rate; waged three brutal wars on Palestinian civilians in Gaza; and installed hundreds of military checkpoints across the shrinking pockets of Palestinian territory in the occupied West Bank.
No wonder heroic individuals like 16-year-old Ahed Tamimi are emerging, only to end up in handcuffs in Israeli military courts after acts of legitimate resistance to the brutal occupation of their land. The little Palestinian girl with the big hair who has won the hearts and minds of millions around the world is a giant compared with the largely lacklustre individuals who will gather in Ramallah on Sunday.
Philosopher Edmund Burke is often credited with the saying, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” This could easily apply to the inaction of the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank, except this cabal, mired in corruption and self-interest, could arguably not be described as “good men”.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad, neither of which are members of the PLO, have been invited to the meeting in Ramallah, which is a good sign. A united front is the only way forward in these uncertain times. The PLO is in unchartered waters dealing with a US President who is as unpredictable as he is mentally unstable, so when the Palestinian Central Council of the organisation comes together on Sunday evening with PA President Mahmoud Abbas they should not waste any more time.
Like the Vatican’s gathering of cardinals deciding who will be the Pope, the doors of the meeting room should be locked and left that way until those gathered inside reach a conclusion. Hopefully, it will be one that is worthy of the Palestinian people, who crave a brave and bold leadership producing fearless and authoritative policies. They know that they already have the support of the international community following widespread condemnation of Trump’s Jerusalem declaration. What the 121 members of the multi-party council need to do now is respond firmly and with one voice.
Trump has still not publicly committed to the idea of an independent Palestinian state and there is no doubt that, after being humiliated on the international stage (even the British poodle turned rogue and ran off with the rest of the European pack) he is in a vindictive mood. In a fit of pique, he has already threatened to stop America’s humanitarian aid to the Palestinians by targeting the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
One of the many issues to be considered by the Palestinian leadership is the longevity of the Trump Administration, with his support base unwavering despite (or perhaps because of) the xenophobic, Islamophobic, misogynistic, racist outpourings from the Oval Office. The bad news is, under the current climate, Trump could go a second term.
Hoping for the best, but planning for the worst, Abbas has to make good his threat that the Americans can no longer play a role as mediator. Despite the enormous pressure that he will come under, he should refuse to see Trump’s Vice President Mike Pence when he visits the region this coming week.
I know different leaders have different styles, but the late Yasser Arafat would have handled this situation so differently that I doubt Trump would have dared to make his Jerusalem announcement in the first place. If he had, I imagine that Arafat would have called for 30 days of rage while garnering support from around the Arab world.
When Arafat pledged to do something, rightly or wrongly it was done. With Abbas, though, we have a man who is known to issue threats but rarely carry them out unless it is to the detriment of the Palestinians living in Gaza or against his political rivals in Hamas. His previous threats to suspend security cooperation or recognition of Israel have simply never materialised. Abbas is a man of weasel words and the bully that is Donald Trump knows this, and it emboldens him more.
The Palestinian leadership must remember that when it signed the Oslo Accords with Israel way back in 1993 in return for formal recognition of Israel, the deal was supposed to lead to a final settlement within five years. Realistically, the creation of an independent Palestinian state stalled two decades ago and is no more. Oslo, I’m afraid, is history.
The Palestinians need to bypass the US in future deliberations until a fully functioning and credible President is in the White House. This might just give the moribund peace process a push in a different direction. The current process died long ago, and trying to revive it will be yet more time and effort wasted.
New thinking is required in Ramallah on Sunday and, dare I say it, a new leadership. The people of Palestine need a different, more viable road map for peace; a process which does not depend on the inane whims of Trump and his fanatically pro-Israel advisers.