Jerusalem crisis should point Palestinians to new path

While ordinary Palestinians have protested in the streets, official leadership issued empty threats over Jerusalem.

Ashraf Amra APA images

Isolated, defiant and forced into casting a veto at the United Nations Security Council: The Trump administration’s brand of diplomacy-by-bluster is bulldozering on, irritating people and knocking over the furniture.

But despite US President Donald Trump’s Jerusalem proclamation managing to whip up almost unanimous global support for Palestinians, the official Palestinian response has so far been predictable and lackluster. Rather than seize an opportunity to change the dominant peace process narrative of “land-for-peace” into one focused on rights and justice, Palestinian officials have instead opted to issue empty threats.

That really is dropping the ball at a time when US diplomacy seems to be run by that angry guy from down the road who talks too loudly and begins to tell racist jokes after a couple of drinks. Indeed, fresh from losing Monday’s UN Security Council vote 14 to 1 over a resolution critical of Washington’s decision to proclaim Jerusalem Israel’s capital, the US has been busy threatening the rest of the world not to inflict a similar defeat on Thursday in the General Assembly.

America’s UN ambassador Nikki “Deadeye” Haley even promised that the US would be “taking names”, cunningly ensuring that the likes of the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru and Palau won’t step out of line.

Friends like these

Washington has one other devoted friend. Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, who despite being under a cloud of corruption allegations still probably wakes up three times a night giggling to himself, is finding it even harder than usual to put aside the smug. The Israeli premier followed up Trump’s Jerusalem announcement with a diplomatic tour de force visit to Brussels where he told European leaders to follow Trump’s lead on Jerusalem.

None of them did, not then nor at the UN a week later. That did not bother Netanyahu, who could count on an American veto and a fierce defense from Haley, who excoriated the rest of the members of the Security Council for their “insult” and told them they were “an embarrassment.”

“Thank you Ambassador Haley,” Netanyahu tweeted, as well he might considering that not only is Washington conducting Israel’s diplomacy for it, America is paying for the pleasure.

“[The] one defeated the many,” he added, for a moment getting all Lord of the Rings-y before presumably remembering that veto power had been vested in America as a permanent member of the Security Council, a rigging of the international order that Israel has greatly exploited over many years.

Pushing at an open door

With this caliber of diplomacy, taking advantage should be like pushing at an open door. Palestinian officials, however, have singularly failed to play against type. While ordinary folk took to the streets of the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip to protest, risking their lives and liberty in the process, neither Hamas nor Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority were able to sound like anything but a pastiche of themselves.

Trump’s decision would “open the gates of hell,” thundered a statement from Hamas, describing the issue of Jerusalem as a “red line.” But Hamas is locked inside Gaza, where securing the basic necessities of life is a daily struggle. No one takes such a threat seriously.

Nor indeed does anyone take Abbas seriously when he says there can now be no role for the US in the peace process. That would be the same peace process that he himself signed those many years ago in the very White House he now wants to shun, a process that only existed, however fatally flawed, because it was what the US wanted.

Abbas has flown off to Riyadh to uncertain purpose, will then make his way to Paris to urge European recognition of Palestinian statehood and is also reported to be tasking the Palestine Liberation Organization with reigniting the attempt to seek full membership for Palestine at the UN.

Whistling in the wind

But he will be whistling in the wind. Even in the through-the-looking-glass world where the EU recognizes a Palestinian state, it would change nothing on the ground. Israel would simply ignore Europe, as it does routinely.

Not even Arab states have recognized a Palestinian state, backing down in 1989 when Washington dug in its heels.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, moreover, is obsessed with Iran. By all accounts the power behind the throne, he is not about to seriously antagonize a potentially very useful fellow Iran phobic. He is also reportedly very close to Jared Kushner, Trump’s Middle East negotiator, another diplomatic neophyte and big supporter of Israeli settlements. Riyadh, for all that it has protested Trump’s Jerusalem announcement, will provide no succour for Palestinians.

Rather than sit around and wait for help, Palestinians from all political stripes need to break with years of habitual thinking. Suggesting there can be no role for the US in a peace process is disingenuous and ineffective. What it actually means is that there can be no peace process. Palestinians need to say so straight out.

Everyone needs to acknowledge that both diplomacy and violence have proven fruitless. Dismantle the Palestinian Authority, announce the end of the two-state target and demand equal rights in a single state. Say it and mean it.

Then let Israel become thoroughly associated with a Trump administration that will do plenty to discredit itself.


Omar Karmi

Omar Karmi is an independent journalist and former Jerusalem and Washington, DC, correspondent for The National newspaper.