Reason not emotion with Trump can save Palestine
Most shocked were American Muslims who took his campaign rhetoric at face value rather than recognizing it as being typical of the polemic debate that characterizes heated American elections.
Muslims may have made a crucial political mistake, pursuing an emotional response to Trump’s rhetoric rather than recognizing the flexibility of election rhetoric to achieve their goals. But they overreacted over his comments on fighting terrorism and Muslims, and that debate engulfed all of Trump’s views on the Middle East, including the issue of Palestine.
The trouble between Trump and Muslims began on Dec. 2, 2015 when Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik stormed a San Bernardino County Health Department Christmas party. The Muslim married couple murdered 14 people who had nothing to do with the Middle East conflict. They seriously injured 22 others. Americans and Trump reacted with horror. Although the terrorist attack was roundly denounced by Arabs and Muslims, many Americans were looking for a response to the terrorism.
Five days after the terrorist attack, and in the heat of the campaign, Trump responded to a provocative question from an American media commentator on how to respond to “Muslim terrorists.”
The Trump campaign was specific about what they wanted to do, issuing a press release saying, “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”
Trump’s statement was quickly exploited by his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton and her allies who used it to portray Trump as an intolerant racist hater. Muslims in America and around the world, and Arabs, too, were dragged into a vicious debate that twisted Trump’s intentions and hardened the racist angle of a “ban.” The Muslims and Arabs do what they always do in politics, respond with emotion rather than strategic reason and dialogue.
It’s uncertain whether Trump will ease up on his call for a Muslim “ban” or whether Muslims and Arabs will set aside political partisanship and try to reach out to Trump to open a badly needed dialogue.
Contrast how Muslims reacted to something they disliked to what Trump said that offended Israelis on the Palestine-Israel conflict.
Two months later in February 2016, Trump was interviewed by a prominent cable TV host who prodded Trump about the Palestine-Israel conflict.
Trump responded, “Let me be sort of a neutral guy” and resulted in headlines across the world in which he was quoted as saying he would be “neutral” on the conflict between Palestine and Israel.
The statement shocked Israelis and even took Palestinians by surprise, since the sympathetic tone of the statement seemed to acknowledge Palestinian suffering and demands for justice. Trump wasn’t saying he wanted to be “fair,” but he said he recognized that achieving a resolution of the conflict that had eluded many past presidents “is not doable.” Trump said that if he is elected president, he would “seek harmony” in the Middle East and try to work with both sides.
“You understand a lot of people have gone down in flames trying to make that deal. So I don’t want to say whose fault it is — I don’t think that helps,” Trump said during the interview. “That’s probably the toughest deal in the world right now to make. It’s possible it’s not makeable because, don’t forget, it has to last.”
Instead of responding to Trump with emotion, Israeli leaders and activists opened a dialogue with Trump, even though many were angry.
In contrast, Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims accelerated their attacks in the context of what they viewed as Trump’s exaggerated “anti-Muslim” posture.
Things might be better for Palestinians and Muslims today with Trump had they reached out to understand Trump, rather than being dragged down the road of conflict by Clinton’s campaign and the mainstream American news media which played an active role inciting public opinion against Trump.
Trump is very familiar with the Palestine-Israel conflict and the suffering of Palestinians. One of his closest business partners and friends is Muslim Palestinian entrepreneur Farouk Shami who came to American in 1965 from Beit Ur Palestine with only $71 in his pocket. Shami built up his business into a successful multi-million dollar hair care corporation. He was frequently featured on Trump’s television programs, including “Celebrity Apprentice” and the Miss Universe and Miss USA Beauty Pageants.
I interviewed Shami in March 2016 as the campaign rhetoric was escalating. Shami told me Trump understood the Palestinian narrative and would be fair and balanced once the contentious election campaign ended.
“As Trump becomes the Republican candidate, I plan to connect with him and donate to his campaign and try to get him Muslim votes,” Shami told me.
“If we do that, he will be open for us and soften his talks about immigrants and Muslims.”
But instead of doing that, Arabs and Muslims closed the door to Trump and Trump has backed off of Palestine, and doubled down on the issue of Muslim immigration, Syria refugees and taking a tough stand against terrorism.
There is still an opportunity for this to change.
Trump took a more gracious stand on Clinton and his political foes after Clinton personally called Trump to concede the election early Wednesday morning. And if Arabs and Muslims care about Palestine and America’s role in the Middle East, they might also step back and take a more gracious position, too, and recognize that regardless of his views, he is the President of the US.
They must not only respect the office of the president but they must also respect the will of the majority of the American people.
Saving Palestine demands it. It’s not too late.
One characteristic about Trump that makes him different from other politicians is he doesn’t have a political record. The slate is clean. He could become our worst enemy, or he could become our strongest friend.
• Ray Hanania is an award winning Palestinian American columnist and writer. Email him at [email protected]il.com.
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view