Palestinians appear caught off guard by Trump's seriousness on Jerusalem embassy

Rubin Center:
The Palestinian Authority, to put it mildly, doesn’t like what may prove to be Trump’s opening gambit in the Middle East. But officials in Ramallah were extremely slow to realize that the incoming U.S. administration represented a sea change from those that have come before.

“[The Palestinians] were shocked to hear that the new administration was serious [about Jerusalem],” Khalil Shikaki, director of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, recently told Foreign Policy. “They underestimated the potential for change with the new administration — this is their ‘awakening’ and they are not prepared.”

This was partially a result, perhaps, to a naïve faith in the institutional inertia of U.S. foreign policymaking. But it was also due to the fact that, according to sources in both Ramallah and Washington, there had been as of last week no direct contact between the Palestinians and the Trump transition. The only link President Mahmoud Abbas appears to have with the Trump administration is an American hedge fund manager whose claim to power is that he sits next to Kushner in an Upper East Side synagogue The Palestinians have been desperately trying to make up for lost time, launching a diplomatic outreach effort meant to mobilize the rest of the world and raise the political price for Trump if he decides to move the embassy. Abbas sent letters last week to more than a dozen world leaders, including Trump, warning of the “disastrous impact on the peace process, on the two-state solution and on the stability and security of the entire region” of such a step. The Palestinian president also met with Pope Francis at the Vatican and dispatched his senior aide, Saeb Erekat, to Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Erekat and other top officials have also in recent days reiterated the threat of revoking Palestinian recognition of Israel, a move enshrined in 1993 at the start of the Oslo Peace Process.

“If Mr. Trump wants to translate his campaign propaganda into actions, no one should expect the Palestinians to surrender,” Jibril Rajoub, a senior member of Abbas’s Fatah Party, told Foreign Policy late last week. “We have to mobilize the whole world to react and exert pressure because … this will cause harm to regional stability, global peace, and American interests.” Rajoub outlined a diplomatic strategy that aims to harness the full influence of the “Arab League, Islamic countries, the nonaligned countries, European Union countries, and the [U.N.] Security Council.”

This effort has already borne some fruit, with one Jordanian minister saying this month that moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem was a “red line” for the Hashemite Kingdom that could “inflame the Islamic and Arab streets.” Yet Arab unity, always a fickle prospect, is never a given — even on issues as emotionally resonant as Jerusalem and the Palestinian question. Officials in Ramallah recall how Egypt balked at the Security Council last month, rescinding its draft resolution condemning Israeli settlements at the eleventh hour, reportedly due to pressure from Israel and the Trump camp. (Egypt eventually voted for the resolution after it was resubmitted by other Security Council members.)

“It’s not going to be easy [for Abbas] to mobilize Arab support like he would like,” Shikaki said. “They have interests, [and while] Jerusalem is of course one of the main common interests it’s an open question whether they’ll be willing to have all the other issues held hostage by this one.”
There are several factors that weaken the hands of the Palestinians and their Arab supporters.

First, OPEC is weaker than it has been for over 50 years.  If they try another oil embargo, it would only help the US shale developers and help Trump with his objective of making the US energy independent.  The Arab OPEC countries failed attempt to kill the shale revolution has also made them financially weaker.  Most of them have been selling their oil at below cost in a predatory pricing move that failed.

Second, Those same Arab countries now need the US more than ever to help contain Iran's threat to their existence.  It would be a mistake to underestimate the threat that Iran poses to the Sunni Arab countries and Obama's terrible Iran deal has made them more dependent than ever on US security and weapons.

Third, The Palestinians are a bigger mess than ever.  Hamas and Fatah and other terrorist organizations are fighting each other as much as they fight Israel.  As a whole, the Palestinians are a weak beggar culture that has been living off the charity of others for decades.  One of their biggest donors is the US.

Trump does know something about doing deals and understands the weakness of the other side much better than past administrations.


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