Thursday,23 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1372, (7 - 13 December 2017)
Thursday,23 May, 2019
Issue 1372, (7 - 13 December 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Trump and Palestinian conciliation

Trump’s “deal of the century” won’t happen without a Palestinian side to sign it, while in turn this is conditional on inter-Palestinian conciliation, which may fail, writes Amr Abdel-Aty

اقرأ باللغة العربية

US President Donald Trump appears to adamantly and clearly support Israel, as seen during his presidential campaign and after winning the presidential race on 8 November 2016. He has gone further than any other US president in promising to relocate the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem (he delayed the move in June), and appointed David Friedman, a Zionist, as US ambassador to Tel Aviv. At the same time, Trump is invested in closing the “deal of the century” (a peace deal between Israel and Palestinians) which he announced during his campaign.

Accordingly, it was not unusual that Trump’s administration welcomed the agreement signed by Fatah and Hamas at the headquarters of Egyptian Intelligence in Cairo on 12 October, ending a decade of division between the two sides that began when Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2007. This is unlike the previous administration which rejected similar efforts to reach conciliation. Trump told Agence France Presse on 7 October: “If we are able to achieve peace between Palestinians and Israel, I believe this would lead to a permanent peace in the Middle East.”

Trump wants to accomplish a breakthrough on peace talks before relocating the US Embassy to Jerusalem. Washington welcomed efforts to create the needed climate for the Palestinian Authority to take full control of Gaza, according to State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert, since it is key to improving humanitarian conditions there.

For Trump’s administration, which desperately wants to reach the “deal of the century”, Egypt’s efforts to make peace between Fatah and Hamas would resolve the Gaza problem which many view as a key requisite to revive the Palestinian-Israeli peace process.

While Washington welcomed the conciliation deal, the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed concern about the two Palestinian factions reconciling, saying this is part of the problem, not part of the solution. In an effort to dispel these concerns, US Envoy to the Middle East and Special Representative to International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt said 19 October that continued support for conciliation is conditional on commitment to the 2006 principles of the Quartet (the US, Russia, UN and EU), as the basis for any US support of any Palestinian cabinet that would include Hamas.

A key principle of the Quartet is that Hamas will not be accepted as a legitimate international actor until it accepts previous agreements, rejects and avoids violence, and acknowledge Israel’s right to exist — meaning recognition of Israel. “If Hamas wants to play any role in the Palestinian government, then it must accept these basic requirements,” explained Greenblatt.

The US is still waiting to see the remainder of the conciliation details, including Hamas’ military forces that Israel estimates at 25,000 armed fighters, and the fate of the group’s weapons and rocket factories.

Forming a unity Palestinian government that includes Hamas before resolving this problem would force Trump’s administration to suspend $100 million in annual assistance, because it would be a breach of Congress’ rule of not funding the Palestinian Authority if Hamas shares power, unless the group reformed itself. Until today, the US still lists Hamas as a terrorist organisation.

Even though Washington supports Egypt’s efforts to make conciliation succeed, this does not mean the US has stopped its traditional and historic support of Israel. The US administration threatened to shut down the Washington office of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) if Palestinians do not halt their campaign in the International Criminal Court, or participate in the peace process that will be announced soon. In response, the PLO said it would suspend all contact with US officials.

This means the US will not present any plans for peace between Palestinians and Israelis or mediate the “deal of the century” that Trump is working so hard on until the picture is clearer in Gaza, to see if conciliation is successful. Through Egyptian mediation, Hamas and Fatah have drawn up an ambitious timeline for the next few months and only time will tell if they will subscribe to this timeline. The US will accordingly decide to support or oppose the deal, and thus the next steps for the US “deal of the century”, which comes at a price for the Palestinians because of US public support of Israel, starting with Trump, Friedman and US representative to the UN Nikki Haley.

The writer is an expert on US affairs at Al-Ahram’s Al-Siyasa Al-Dawliya magazine.

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