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Trump-Abbas meeting: A celebration of egos

Neither Trump, Abbas, nor Netanyahu is willing to move beyond document signing and actually work for a just and lasting peace

In his opening remarks at his Washington press conference with Mahmoud Abbas, Donald Trump praised the Palestinian president for courageously signing the Declaration of Principles (DoP) - the official name for the Oslo Agreement - on the lawn of the White House 24 years ago.

According to Trump, the DoP “laid the foundation for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians”. Equally important, he told Abbas “you signed your name to the first Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement”. Trump supported Abbas for “being the Palestinian leader who signs his name to the final and most important peace agreement that brings safety, stability, and prosperity to both peoples and to the region”.
This was music to Abbas’s ears, who has been wishing for such recognition for a long time. Abbas has long complained about not receiving sufficient recognition for his historical role in signing that “very important” document, as all the credit went to the late PLO leader Yasser Arafat, including the Nobel Prize.

Undoubtedly, Trump’s opening remarks boosted Abbas’ ego at a time when he suffers a deep legitimacy crisis at home, criticised by the Palestinian people for leading the Palestinian polity into authoritarianism - mainly through sub-contracting repression - and for solidifying the foundation of a Palestinian police state under Israeli military occupation.

Leaders in denial

Yet Trump’s apparent warm reception reportedly worried and confused the Israelis. In turn, Abbas reciprocated this “Trumpism” of narrative and celebration of egos by telling Trump, “Now, Mr President, with you we have hope.” Earlier in his remarks, Abbas told Trump, “your courageous stewardship and your wisdom, as well as your great negotiating ability” will essentially bring about peace.

This glowing rhetoric, hypocrisy and egotism blocked the eyes and minds of the two presidents from acknowledging the stark failure of the DoP to bring about prosperity and security to both sides, the Palestinians and Israelis.

In fact, that Oslo accord has allowed Israel to expand its illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem and to continue its colonisation of Palestinian lands. The failure of that celebrated DoP and its framework meant that Israel entrenched its apartheid policies, practices and structures.

In essence, that DoP was merely a security arrangement between the colonised and coloniser to secure the latter, which is very far from being a peace agreement, to the detriment of the livelihood of the Palestinian people.

Dubious partnership

The conditionality of security arrangements and counter-terrorism were at the core of Trump’s remarks, which is in line with the Israeli demands and the donor-imposed Palestinian Authority (PA) security doctrine.

Abbas nodded his head in agreement throughout the press conference as he views security coordination as a 'Palestinian national interest' and a 'sacred' doctrine

Trump stated clearly, “we must continue to build our partnership with the Palestinian security forces to counter and defeat terrorism”. Trump added, “They [Palestinian and Israeli security establishments] get along unbelievably well… They work together beautifully” – a statement that outraged many Palestinians.

Unsurprisingly, Abbas nodded his head in agreement throughout the press conference as he views security coordination as a “Palestinian national interest” and as a “sacred” doctrine.  

Palestinian Authority forces clash with demonstrators outside the Ramallah courthouse in March 2017 (MEE/Elia Ghorbiah)
However, in reality, this translates to a partnership that aims to criminalise Palestinian resistance against the Israeli occupation. It's a partnership that aims to empower the dominance of the PA security establishment and forces, positioning them as repressive bodies presiding over the Palestinian people and their struggle for self-determination.

This partnership further manifests itself through the sponsorship of the authoritarian transformations that have accompanied the Palestinian state-building project, in particular over the last decade.

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The majority of the Palestinian people reject this “sacred” security coordination between the PA and Israel, which is has significantly contributed to the widening legitimacy gap between the Palestinian people and the political and security elite.

But neither Abbas nor Trump care enough about the aspirations and demands of the Palestinian people. Both presidents fail to understand that, first and foremost, a lasting and meaningful peace agreement is not possible without the approval and endorsement of the people. Achieving peace, contrary to what Trump and Abbas claim, is more complex than a merely signing “a document”.

Peace can't be bought

Like most previous US administrations, Trump understands the “big ultimate deal” mainly through security and economic lenses. Accordingly, he is reinforcing a well-trodden path and failed paradigm of securitised peace and an economic peace approach.

Trump refuses to recognise that economic aid cannot buy political peace. The current administration needs only to look at the Obama administration’s failed economic peace approach to draw obvious conclusions.

Even a brief examination of the former US secretary of state John Kerry’s Palestine Economic Initiative (PEI) provides plenty of examples and lessons on why “new economic opportunities”, as dictated by the US and within its framework and understanding of peace and “big deal” approach, will not lead to peace. In fact, the exact opposite is true: it sustains and entrenches a status quo that denies basic human rights, equality and freedom.

US Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa in Jordan (AFP)
Trump concluded the meeting by stating, “We’ll start a process which hopefully will lead to peace.” He neither defined the process or its parameters, nor did he mention the Palestinian state or the two-state solution that Abbas has pursued throughout his political career. Abbas simply said “Okay.” He approved “starting a process” and he accepted starting a journey towards peace under Trump’s leadership.

For Trump, as well as most previous US administrations, peace means security for Israel and political stability. For the Israeli political leadership, as evidenced by their facts on the ground, peace means annexation, colonisation and apartheid. For the unelected and unrepresentative PA leadership, peace means entrenching their economic privileges and perceived (real or imagined) power and authority.

To really bring peace would involve de-colonising and dismantling the Israeli apartheid regime and ending the illegal Israeli military occupation

Abbas, his advisors and the Palestinian political leadership are unable to learn the decade-long simple lesson that is supported by ample evidence: the US is a dishonest broker for peace.

To really bring about peace would involve de-colonising and dismantling the Israeli apartheid regime and ending the illegal Israeli military occupation: that is the first step.

But neither the US administration, nor Abbas or Netanyahu are willing to travel this road. They might engage in a process that will satisfy their egos and ideological fantasies, but will certainly not secure a just and lasting peace. This will be a job for the next generation of leaders.

Dr Alaa Tartir is the programme director of Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, a post-doctoral fellow at The Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP), and a visiting research fellow at the Centre on Conflict, Development and Peacebuilding (CCDP), The Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (IHEID), Geneva, Switzerland. Follow Alaa Tartir on Twitter @alaatartir and read his publication at  

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Image: Trump meets Abbas in Oval Office of White House (AFP)

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