After speaking to reporters at the Word Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland, US President Donald Trump threatened to cut aid to the Palestinian Authority for having “disrespected” Vice-President Mike Pence during his visit to the Middle East. He told reporters, “respect has to be shown to the US or we’re just not going any further”. Mr. Trump happened to be sitting next to Israel’s prime-minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, when he alluded to the Palestinians’ snub of Pence. “They disrespected us a week ago by not allowing our great vice president to see them,” he said, before adding that that the US may withhold “hundreds of millions” in aid money for Palestinians if they did not return to peace talks. “That money is on the table and that money’s not going to them unless they sit down and negotiate peace.” In relation to Israeli, Mr Trump defended his controversial decision, saying, “Israel has always supported the United States so what I did with Jerusalem was my honour.”
Trump’s threat to cut aid, however, seems to have had little effect on his intended target, judging by the Palestinian response so far. A spokesman for President Abbas said the Palestinians would not meet with the US administration until it withdrew its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. “If the American administration will not go back on their decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, it will remain outside the [negotiation] table,” Nabil Abu Rudeina stated.
Hanan Ashrawi, another senior Palestinian official and veteran negotiator, told AFP that “not meeting your oppressor is not a sign of disrespect, it is a sign of self-respect”—a direct response to the accusation of disrespect towards Mike Pence. It should also be noted that Ms. Ashrawi rejects Vice-President Pence’s view of Jerusalem as Mr. Pence is known to be an advocate of the evangelical Christian position that Jewish control of Jerusalem is ordained by scripture. The fact that Mr. Pence’s beliefs are common knowledge among Palestinian officials, such as Ms Ashrawi (who happens to be a Christian herself) going into the negotiations, presents problems towards efforts aimed at easing the tension between the Americans and the Palestinians.
Trump’s latest comments relating to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process comes after Trump decided to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital—a move that close allies in Europe and the Middle East denounced as provocative and likely to lead to unrest, which would further damage prospects in the long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Trump’s decision also prompted Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, to decline to meet with Mr. Pence during a recent visit to Israel. Several religious figures in both the Palestinian territories and countries like Egypt, followed suit and refused to meet the US vice-president. Earlier this month Mr. Abbas described President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as “the slap of the century” and further stated, “after what they have done to” to the Palestinians, the US could no longer be trusted as a mediator in the talks. Such denunciations from the leader of the Palestinian authority can now be seen as triggers behind the recent move by Trump administration to freeze approximately $60m for Palestinian refugees, which shall only be released on condition of a United Nations “re-examination” of programs. The Palestinians, however, for their part, have remained defiant. Most recently a dozen Palestinian legislators had to be ejected by security guards from the chamber after protesting Vice-President Mike Pence’s speech during his visit to the Israeli Knesset (parliament). The legislators who represent Palestinians living inside Israel’s pre-1967 borders, held up signs that read “Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine”, in what was a stand “against the Trump-Netanyahu regimes’ exaltation of racism and hatred” according to Ayman Odeh, the leader of the Joint List of Arab parties in the Knesset.
The forced removal of the Palestinian legislators from the Knesset runs counter to Israel’s boast about being the region’s only true democracy in the Middle East, as pointed out in a January 22nd article on “the Intercept” website. In my opinion, a similar hint of irony can be found in the US’ treatment of Palestinian concerns over President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. And that is despite Trump’s promise reach the “ultimate deal” for both sides of the Palestinian-Israeli divide. His words and actions should be seen as nothing other than punitive in relation to the Palestinians. They aim to push the Palestinians to cave in on an issue—the status of Jerusalem—that remains central to any future peace deal between themselves and the Israelis. By issuing such threats, President Trump is effectively using humanitarian aid as a means of leverage against people whose collective future hinges on the fate of said deal. With very few options available to them (ie boycotting and denouncing the US’s actions), the Palestinians are reminding the US that it shouldn’t take unilateral decisions relating to Jerusalem and the Middle East peace process as a whole. The role of mediator is a position conferred to the US, in part, due to its standing on the world stage as an economic and military superpower—allowing it to serve as a key provider of aid (both military and humanitarian) to Israelis and Palestinians, respectively. With that position increasingly under threat, though, the Trump administration should reconsider its current stance—that the Jerusalem issue is off the negotiation table—and look to win back some of the credibility it lost as a result of President Trump’s Jerusalem decision.
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