Palestinian Leaders Ramp Up Feud with the US
JNS.org – While the Trump administration believes that the Middle East is “at the dawn of a new era” — marked by progress towards “a peaceful resolution” to the Arab-Israeli conflict — many Palestinians are singing a different tune.
On January 23, the White House revealed that there has been no contact between the Palestinians and President Donald Trump’s Middle East negotiating team since the December 6 announcement of US policy changes on Jerusalem.
In line with the ongoing Palestinian boycott of the Trump administration, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas snubbed Vice President Mike Pence during the American leader’s visit to Israel this week, and instead flew to Europe — where he implored the European Union to recognize a Palestinian state.
Israeli Knesset member Michael Oren (Kulanu), deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, has scoffed at the Palestinians’ current feud with the US.
“The Palestinians have zero to complain about. They spent eight years with the most pro-Palestinian president ever,” Oren told JNS, referring to Barack Obama. “But they spat in his eye and went to UN agencies like UNESCO. They wasted that period, and they are wasting it now.”
Speaking at Israel’s parliament on January 22, Vice President Pence drew loud applause and standing ovations from Israeli legislators — with the notable exception of Arab lawmakers, who staged a protest at the beginning of the speech, and were promptly escorted out of the plenum. Even before Pence arrived in Israel, MK Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint Arab List party, called him a “dangerous man with a messianic vision.”
Palestine Liberation Organization negotiator Saeb Erekat similarly tweeted: “The messianic discourse of Pence is a gift to extremists & has proven that the US Administration is part of the problem rather than the solution.”
Amid the anger of Palestinian and Arab leaders, professor Efraim Inbar, president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies, argued that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not the main concern in the region.
“The US administration, like the Israeli government and moderate Arab countries in the region, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, all see Iranian encroachment and the regime’s effort to achieve regional hegemony as the main problem,” he told JNS. “Jordan pays lip service to the Palestinian cause, but what they are doing is not what they are saying.”
And although the Trump administration has apparently taken a clear stance on Iran and the Arab-Israeli conflict, US policy in the rest of the Middle East, such as in Syria or Lebanon, still seems hazy to some experts like Inbar.
“The Americans need to make up their minds on what their Middle East policy actually is,” Inbar stated. “The Palestinian issue is only a minor part of it. We are not seeing a clear policy at this point.”
Oren agreed that the Palestinian issue is not the primary concern in the Middle East, even though part of the international community is still focused heavily on the Palestinians.
“What the Europeans fail to get,” Oren said, “is that by encouraging Abbas not to enter negotiations with Israel and the US, they are harming the Palestinians themselves. It creates a situation where Abbas cannot enter negotiations. People are giving the Palestinians terrible advice.”
The US, however, has been advising the Palestinians to resume negotiations with Israel. By recognizing Jerusalem, Pence said, the US chose “fact over fiction. And fact is the only true foundation for a just and lasting peace.” Pence then urged the Palestinian leadership to “return to the table.”
Oren, too, said that it would be in the best interests of the Palestinians to return to negotiations, and stated that, “my sense is that the US will wait for the Palestinians” to agree to negotiate.
As the Palestinians continue to lament the US recognition of Jerusalem — and the very existence of the Jewish state — Oren said, “It’s their tragedy. The tragedy that keeps playing over and over.”