Trump-Abbas meeting an exercise in futility

Analysis: Instead of committing to endless negotiations, the Palestinian leadership must hold Israel accountable.

Trump welcomes Abbas in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington
After his meeting with Abbas, Trump announced that there would be some kind of 'process' - the same failed strategy pursued by three US presidents [Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]

The Trump-Abbas meeting this week was, for Palestinians, as expected: useless. 

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas emerged from the meeting with nothing more than lunch and an empty proclamation from US President Donald Trump that he intends to “get this done”, referring to Israeli-Palestinian peace. Absent were any concrete statements on how it could get “done”, and in their place were vagaries on how Trump could be a “mediator, arbitrator or facilitator” in pursuit of peace. 

For his part, Abbas lauded Trump’s “courageous” and “capable” leadership, and praised his “great negotiating ability”. At the end of their joint news conference, Trump announced that there would be some kind of “process” – in other words, the same failed strategy pursued by three US presidents, spanning six administrations and 24 years.

But for Abbas, this is precisely what he wanted. He has spent his political lifetime pushing for one thing – negotiations – even as this very “process” has damaged Palestinians’ dreams for liberation and an end to Israeli supremacy on their land.  

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At first glance, the idea of two parties negotiating their differences sounds appealing as a non-violent means of dispute resolution. But in reality, for Palestinians, the negotiation process has facilitated some of the worst forms of Israeli violence, while giving Israel cover to pretend that it wants peace with Palestinians, rather than simply to annex Palestinian land. 

Take, for example, Israel’s settlements: When the “peace process” began in 1993, the number of illegal Israeli settlers in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip stood at 256,000. By the year 2000, the settler population had increased by more than 100,000 to 370,000 – and today, the number is nearly triple the 1993 figure, standing at more than 766,000. 

Yet, while its settlements expanded, Israel did not feel the wrath of the international community. On the contrary: Its economy boomed as more countries around the world established diplomatic and trade ties with Israel, and US aid to the country skyrocketed, all without any guarantees that Israel’s subjugation of Palestinians would ever end. 

It is for this reason that successive Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have called for negotiations, as this process allows Israel to have its cake and eat it too; to steal Palestinian land while claiming that it is pursuing “peace”. In the context of military occupation and the gross disparity of power that accompanies it, negotiations cannot ever succeed, nor can they succeed without forcing Israel to abide by international law.

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Abbas may somehow believe that this time, the “process” will be different under Trump. Trump is, after all, unconventional. 

Yet anyone who has paid attention to Trump’s history knows that this is not a man capable of being a “mediator, arbitrator or facilitator”. Rather, he will, like his predecessors, be Israel’s cheerleader and enabler-in-chief.   

Although Trump’s presidency has lasted just over 100 days, this period has witnessed the fastest rate of Israel’s settlement growth in any US president’s first 100 days in office, with more than 10,000 units announced. Trump has repeatedly declared that he intends to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, in violation of US policy and international law, and has appointed an ardent supporter of Israel’s settlements, David Friedman, as his ambassador to Israel.  


In short, this is not a president who is remotely interested in securing equality for Palestinians. Instead, he will continue to indulge Israel’s insatiable appetite for Palestinian land.  

So, while Abbas may get his beloved negotiations process again, it will come without any guarantees that Israel’s settlement activity will stop or that Israel will finally end its 50-year-old military rule over Palestinians in the occupied territories. Trump acknowledged this when he said the process would “hopefully lead to peace” – in short, negotiating for the sake of negotiating.

And this is where change must begin. For years, Palestinians have been disenchanted with Abbas’s rule, but owing to his repeated cancellation of elections and long-running rule by presidential decree, they have been unable to cast a ballot for anyone else. Public opinion polls indicate that 64 percent of Palestinians are now calling for his resignation, and the support for his failed strategy of negotiations also rests at 33 percent. 

Palestinians do not have time for more endless negotiations. If the Palestinian leadership wants to demonstrate that it, too, wants the liberation of the Palestinian people, many believe that it should support the growing boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, and press for Palestinian freedom by holding Israel and its supporters accountable instead of clinging to false Trump promises.

Diana Buttu is a Palestinian lawyer and analyst who served as a legal adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team from 2000 to 2005.

Source: Al Jazeera