Trump’s flawed policy doesn’t help Palestine

By Shu Meng Source:Global Times Published: 2018/1/15 20:43:39

Illustration: Peter C. Espina/GT

The Palestinian issue has been a pawn on the chessboard of the Middle East with international and regional powers being the players.

US President Donald Trump said in a pair of tweets on January 2 that the US pays "the Palestinians hundreds of millions of dollars a year and gets no appreciation or respect." On January 5, Trump threatened Palestine to go back to the negotiating table or face a freeze in $125 million funding for Palestinian refugees, an act to reshape US influence and sow discord in Middle East countries. It once again highlights the fact that the US does not actually aim to resolve the Palestinian issue.

Like the previous plan to relocate the US Embassy to Jerusalem, the US decision to freeze refugee aid seems to be plain posturing. After all, Palestine suffers from serious economic problems and is highly dependent on other countries. Threatening Palestine with freezing refugee aid is only a means of creating pressure.

Even in the face of strong opposition from the Islamic world, Trump stands by his Palestinian policy. He recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital when he was a presidential candidate; he put forward the one-state solution to address the Israel-Palestine conflict; and going forward, he recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital after becoming president. What Trump did has queered the pitch for the resolution of the Palestinian issue.

The effect of freezing refugee aid is not as significant as the question of changing the Israeli capital. However, it should be noted that the frozen $125 million are for funding a UN agency to provide aid to Palestinian refugees - a humanitarian issue. The mixing of a political problem with the humanitarian issue unmasked the hegemonic nature of US foreign policy.

Opinions differ over Trump's Middle East policy. Some believe that Trump's Middle East strategy, apparently clumsy, is actually wise, while others feel that he is stirring up a hornet's nest because of his ignorance.

As for his wisdom, Trump's initiatives on Palestine legitimized US role in the Palestinian issue after the Camp David Accords, and brought more international attention to the issue and fomented dissension among Middle East countries. It is possible that with continued US pressure the Palestinian government or even Hamas could return to the negotiating table. Trump fulfilled his campaign promise and he would take credit for the restart of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

As for Trump's ignorance, moderate and radical Palestinian factions would pull different ways under strong external pressure. The moderate faction may resume difficult negotiations which would struggle to break new ground given the complexity of the issue. The radical faction, however, will resume attacks and cozy up to regional extremist groups, threatening Israel's security and stability in the Middle East.

Evaluating Trump's Palestine policy depends on his real objectives. The US does gain if putting personal prestige and short-term interests above all other matters is concerned, but if it is guided by problem-solving, his approach will only drag the problem into a deeper quagmire. Unfortunately, judging from current developments, Trump's policy is more of the former.

Palestine should avoid being led by Trump's whimsical policy. Once Palestine goes back to the situation where the conservatives tend to compromise while the radicals resort to violence, all efforts at peace would come to a naught. Then the Palestinian issue will eventually become a marginalized or even abandoned chess pawn.

The author is an assistant researcher at the Middle East Studies Institute of Shanghai International Studies University.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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