The Palestinian Authority (PA) is right to stand firm against the US threat last week to cut hundreds of millions of dollars in aid. The threat came after PA President Mahmoud Abbas responded to last month’s US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital by saying the Palestinians will no longer accept the White House as a mediator, and “will not accept any plan” put forward by it.
The PA reacted to the US threat with defiance, saying Jerusalem is “not for sale.” Its strident stand is welcome, not least because, given the PA’s history of kowtowing to Israel and the US, such a stance was not a foregone conclusion.Strident stand is welcome but the PA is adept at self-preservation and its defiance of US threat to cut aid is as much in its own interests as that of the Palestinian people.Sharif Nashashibi
But the PA is adept at self-preservation, even at the expense of Palestinian rights, and since a meek response to the Jerusalem decision could have spelled suicide for the Authority amid a wave of Palestinian anger, its defiance is as much in its own interests as that of its people (according to an opinion poll in October, half of Palestinians believe the PA is a burden on them).
President Donald Trump’s rationale for threatening to cut US aid to the PA is yet more evidence of how unhinged he is. Having boasted that he took “Jerusalem, the toughest part of the negotiation, off the table,” he condemned the Palestinians for not showing “appreciation or respect.”
In expecting the PA to be grateful for his brazen disregard for Palestinian rights, he himself highlighted the futility of engaging with his administration (US media reported this week the extent of his son-in-law and Middle East “peace” envoy Jared Kushner’s business dealings with Israel).
If the PA’s defiance of the US threat is to call its bluff, it is likely to work. Less than two weeks prior, Trump threatened to withhold “billions” of dollars of US aid from countries that planned to vote in favor of a UN resolution rejecting the US’ decision on Jerusalem.
The international community shrugged off the threat, with 128 countries — two-thirds of UN member states, including major recipients of US aid — voting in favor of the resolution. Only nine countries voted against, most of which were tiny island nations. Some three weeks on, there has yet to be any action against any country for voting against the US.
Making such a threat in the first place revealed Trump’s fundamental misunderstanding of US aid, seeing it as mere charity rather than as a means to further American interests. The scale of the UN General Assembly’s defiance perhaps made him realize that making good on his threat would seriously undermine American leverage globally (something recipients of US aid probably calculated in their decision to vote in favor of the resolution).
Given the PA’s long-held enthusiasm for its own preservation, it must have also calculated that the US threat against it was hollow. After all, US aid to the PA has not been altruistic; it has bought the Authority’s subservience to American and Israeli interests. Its current defiance aside, the PA is still faithfully coordinating with Israel day-to-day — against the wishes and interests of the Palestinian people.
The last thing Israel and the US want is for the PA to collapse, because that would mean Israel having to assume the responsibilities and burdens of an occupying power that the Authority has thus far shouldered. If either country wanted the PA’s demise, it would have happened by now — the reason it has not is because they both know that the Authority serves important purposes.
If the US decides to cut its aid to the PA because it no longer fulfils that role, and if that threatens or causes its collapse, then so be it. An Authority whose existence is predicated on serving the interests of its people’s oppressors does not deserve to exist.
The problem with the PA’s refusal to accept the US as a mediator is that it is contextualized as a response to Trump’s one-sidedness, as if this was not a feature of all his predecessors’ administrations (including Barack Obama’s) going back decades.
The US has never been an honest broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That the PA has only realized or expressed this now, and that it will abandon this position once Trump leaves office (if not well before), is cause for concern because it wrongly implies that the problem is president-specific rather than systemic.
In an effort to supplant the US as mediator — for now at least — the PA has urged Russia, China and Europe to play a bigger diplomatic role. But all these parties enjoy close and growing relations with Israel (Russia and China are just more discreet about it than the West). And none of them have shown an interest in playing a more prominent role, or a willingness to use their leverage to pressure Israel (the EU, for example, is its biggest trading partner).
But that does not mean that diplomacy should not be diversified, and it does not validate the argument that the Palestinians must accept US mediation because it is the only game in town. Better to shun a biased broker than to legitimize it. A “peace process” that has served only as a fig leaf to entrench Israel’s occupation and colonization of Palestine deserves nothing but contempt, as do those who subscribe to it.