There was a time when the United States and much of the rest of the world saw the Palestinians as a non-people, or as a subset of the people of Jordan, or as a backward collection of whiners and terrorists who could easily be “absorbed” into the countries of their fellow Arabs. But over the decades, that began to change. Eventually a consensus emerged that a negotiated two-state solution was the most equitable and the most practical way to address the legitimate territorial claims of both Israelis and Palestinians.
Today, however, the Trump administration is moving that cause steadily backward in a bogus search for what the president has boasted will be the “ultimate” peace deal, but which seems increasingly likely to result in a one-sided proposal that will be both unfair and unacceptable to Palestinians when and if it is unveiled.
Just consider Trump’s actions in recent months. First, he declared that, in a reversal of long-standing policy, the United States would formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel — a needlessly provocative concession to right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that complicates future negotiations.
This is a symbolic act, but symbols are symbols for a reason.
Then the State Department announced that the U.S. would no longer provide any funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which runs hundreds of schools for Palestinian refugees, dozens of medical clinics and food assistance for half the population in the Gaza Strip alone. The Trump administration called the agency “irredeemably flawed,” but left it unclear how fewer schools, less healthcare and more hunger would aid the cause of peace.
On Monday, the administration ordered the closure of the de facto embassy of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Washington, D.C. The reason? The PLO “has not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel.”
This is a symbolic act, but symbols are symbols for a reason. The U.S. government did not allow the office to open at all until 1994; it was only in 2011 that the Obama administration permitted the Palestinian flag to fly over the office, which was seen as a historic moment by many Palestinians.
Slowly, the administration is turning the screws, sending the unmistakable message to Palestinians that the U.S. no longer sees itself as an evenhanded broker in the effort to find a workable solution to the conflict. An early draft of its peace proposal, put together by presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, a former Trump Organization lawyer, has been flatly rejected by Arab countries as “radical, pro-Israel and out of line with traditional U.S. policy and international law,” according to a Times report last week.
The search for Middle East peace has been characterized by missed opportunities, stubbornness and willful misunderstanding. Undoubtedly, Palestinian leaders have too often failed to rein in militants or to reject violence by embracing tolerance and co-existence. But the hard-line Netanyahu government bears a big share of responsibility as well for years of stalemate. In the end, the continuation of the 50-year occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is a tragedy for Israelis and Palestinians alike.