By Basaam Tawil, Gatestone Institute—
The Palestinians are once again angry — this time because the Trump administration does not seem to have endorsed their position regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Palestinians are also angry because they believe that the Trump administration does not want to force Israel to comply with all their demands.
Here is how the Palestinians see it: If you are not with us, then you must be against us. If you do not accept all our demands, then you must be our enemy and we cannot trust you to play the role of an “honest” broker in the conflict with Israel.
Last week, unconfirmed reports once again suggested that the Trump administration has been working on a comprehensive plan for peace in the Middle East. The full details of the plan remain unknown at this time.
However, what is certain — according to the reports — is that the plan does not meet all of the Palestinians’ demands. In fact, no peace plan — by Americans or any other party — would be able to provide the Palestinians with everything for which they are asking.
Palestinian requirements remain as unrealistic as ever. They include, among other things, the demand that millions of Palestinian “refugees” be allowed to enter Israel. Also, the Palestinians want Israel to withdraw to indefensible borders that would bring Hamas and other groups closer to Tel Aviv.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) and its leader, 82-year-old Mahmoud Abbas, now in the twelfth year of his four-year term, continue to insist that they will accept nothing less than a sovereign and independent Palestinian state, with east Jerusalem as its capital, on the entire lands captured by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War.
Most dangerous is that even in the unlikely event that Abbas would sign some deal, another leader can come along later and legitimately say that Abbas had no authority to sign anything as his term had long since expired.
Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist terror group controlling the Gaza Strip, maintains that it will never accept the presence of Israel on “Muslim-owned” land. Hamas wants all the land Israel supposedly “took” in 1948. Translation: Hamas wants the destruction of Israel in order to establish an Islamic Caliphate where non-Muslims would be granted the status of dhimmi (“protected person”).
Unlike the Palestinian Authority, Hamas deserves credit for being clear and consistent about its true goal. Since its establishment three decades ago — and despite recent illusory hopes expressed by Western pundits — Hamas has refused to change its ideology or soften its policy. It resolutely sticks to its stance that no Muslim is entitled to give up any part of Muslim-owned lands to non-Muslims (in this instance, Jews. The same held true for “cleansing” Turkey of Armenian and Greek non-Muslims).
The Janus-faced Palestinian Authority, on the other hand, continues to speak in multiple voices, sending conflicting messages both to its people and the international community. No one really knows whether the PA has a clear and unified strategy in dealing with Israel.
Mahmoud Abbas knows how to sound extremely nice, and often does so when he meets with Israelis and Western leaders. But when he speaks in Arabic to his own people, sometimes it is hard to distinguish Abbas from Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh.
Some of Abbas’s top officials sound even more extreme than Hamas. Except, of course, when these soft-spoken, Western-educated Palestinian officials are dispatched to talk to Westerners. Then, all of a sudden, comes the honey.
Because the Palestinian Authority leaders and their surrogates speak in more than one voice, they send conflicting messages to the world about their actual intentions, often managing to fool everyone. Too often the world believes the messages they want to hear instead of the less-comfortable real ones.
The Palestinian Authority’s contradictory messages have created the impression that it is both a peace partner and an enemy — depending on whom you heard and when you heard him.
One thing is clear: from the Palestinian angle, there is no love lost between the US and them. From their point of view — and this is a point of view that they have held for an exhaustingly long time — the US is unable to play an unbiased role as a mediator in the conflict with Israel. What eats at the Palestinians is the strong and strategic alliance between the US and Israel.
The Palestinians have accused every US administration over the past four or five decades of being “biased” in favor of Israel. The Palestinians would certainly like to see the hundreds of millions of dollars in financial aid every year they receive from the US continue. Yet, no matter what the US does for the Palestinians, the Americans will always be denounced for their alleged bias in favor of Israel.
The Trump administration is about to receive a lesson in Palestinian politics. If and when the Trump administration makes public its peace plan, the Palestinians will be the first to reject it, simply because it does not meet all their demands.
Mahmoud Abbas knows that he cannot come back to his people with anything less than what he has promised his people: 100%.
The past few days have already given us indications of the Palestinian response. Here, for instance, is what Abbas’s spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudaineh, had to say when he was asked to comment on reports concerning the peace plan and the US threat to close down the PLO’s diplomatic mission in Washington: “The American administration has lost its ability to play the role of mediator in the region. The US can no longer be seen as the sponsor of the peace process.”
Abu Rudaineh’s remarks were rather more restrained than comments concerning the Trump administration made by other Palestinian officials and factions.
The PLO’s chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, went as far as threatening that the Palestinians would suspend all communication with the US if the PLO’s diplomatic mission is shuttered.
Of course, no one seems to take Erekat’s threat seriously. Suspending contacts with the US is tantamount to suicide for the Palestinians. Without US financial and political support, the Palestinian Authority and Erekat would disappear from the scene within days. At this stage, it remains unclear whether Erekat’s talk about suspending contacts with the Americans includes the refusal to accept US financial aid.
Yet, Erekat’s threats should be seen in the context of growing Palestinian rage and hostility toward the Trump administration. This anger is now being translated into a rhetorical onslaught against Trump and his administration. Palestinians are now accusing the current administration of working and conspiring towards “liquidating” the Palestinian cause with the help of some Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
The Palestinians have made up their mind: the Trump peace plan is bad for us and we will not accept it. The plan is bad because it does not force Israel to give the Palestinians everything. For the Palestinians, the plan is bad because it is viewed as part of a conspiracy concocted by Jared Kushner and Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. The Palestinians have convinced themselves that Trump wants to “liquidate” their cause, not solve it.
Trump is about to go through the same process that President Bill Clinton experienced at Camp David 17 years ago. Then, much to the astonishment of Clinton, Yasser Arafat turned down flat an astoundingly generous offer by then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Trump will soon learn that for Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinians, 99% is just not enough.
Bassam Tawil, a Muslim, is based in the Middle East.