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After Trump’s decision on Jerusalem: What future awaits the Palestinian question?

From left to right: Salem Almahroukey (moderator), Izzat Al Rishq and Adnan Hayajneh [AlJazeera]

Introduction

Al Jazeera Centre for Studies (AJCS) and Al Jazeera Mubasher (AJM) co-organised a seminar entitled, “After Trump’s decision on Jerusalem: What future awaits the Palestinian question?” at Al Jazeera Media Training and Development Centre Auditorium on Thursday, 21 December 2017. This report sheds light on the proceedings of the event.

Overview

A number of top politicians, senior researchers and experts took part in a seminar organised by AJCS in collaboration with AJM on the repercussions of the executive order signed by US President Donald Trump whereby his administration recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and declared the relocation of its embassy from Tel Aviv to the holy city. Held on Thursday, 21 December 2017, the seminar addressed the ramifications of Trump’s decision among the Palestinians, and whether it would drive them towards mending fences and forging a uniform strategy of resistance that shapes their future national agenda.

Conferees discussed the impact of Trump’s move not only on the impasse among the Palestinian factions, but also the current political wrangling across the Middle East.

The seminar concluded by exploring the future of the Palestinian cause and the two-state solution, and whether or not such proposal is still standing especially now that the US role as key mediator has been undermined by Trump’s decision.

Speaking at the seminar were: Mohammad Eshtaya, a member of Fatah’s Executive Committee; Izzat Al Rishq, head of Hamas's bureau for Arab and Islamic relations, Adnan Hayajneh, professor of political science at Qatar University and Hugh Lovatt, policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

The impact of Trump’s decision on negotiations

In his opening remarks, Mohammad Eshtaya pointed out that following the order signed by Trump, the Palestinians came to a turning in the history of their cause, where certain milestones should be highlighted, from the suspension of armed struggle to the negotiations which practically came to a standstill on 30 March 2013. Thus, the Palestinian leadership resorted to international organisations and initiating recognition on a bilateral basis with states, such as Sweden and the Vatican, and state parliaments.

Eshtaya added that Trump’s move was simply singing the same tune sung by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who turned a blind eye to all the agreements signed with the Palestinians.

“In addition, theUSPresident has smothered the future of any negotiations on the final solution, namely the status ofJerusalem, borders, water and the Palestinian refugees. So, Trump’s move represents a gift by unrightful owner to the undeserving donee in unlawful manner. It is a challenge to the world order,” said Eshtaya.

He explained that the Palestinian National Council holds tutelage and that it and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) established its authority.

Eshtaya added that the council must convene to have a genuine and critical analysis of the situation. “The popular uprising must live up to the backing of the political stance. It must be augmented by national reconciliation in order to rally international support for the termination of the Israeli occupation,” he added.

“Trump simply embraced the Jewish narrative, turning a blind eye to both the Christian and Muslim accounts. He pushed us into religious warfare. This huge challenge requires clear popular and political courses of action, especially since negotiations had been stifled by Israel before Trump. Now, there is no mediator. Negotiations were given a blow by Trump,” said Eshtaya.

Moreover, he stressed that an international consensus is needed to address Trump’s decision. This is what the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, embarked on as he headed to Turkey, Saudi Arabia and France, where he met with dozens of European foreign ministers.

Eshtaya added that Trump’s decision turned the attention of the whole world to Jerusalem; it is now a global issue, not a Palestinian-Israeli one, as acknowledged by American and Israeli academic institutions alike.

Finally, he concluded, “The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not a spur of the moment; a hundred years have passed since the Balfour Declaration. However, a radical change took place, shifting the epicentre of conflict from the occupied Palestinian territories to Jerusalem. Israel’s plan is to Judaise the holy city, causing its natives to shrink to only 19 per cent of its population, and to demolish Al Aqsa Mosque to replace it with the alleged Temple Mount by 2020. The game is not over yet. The answer must be in one uniform Palestinian and Arab stance.”

A Silver Lining

Al Rishq is of the opinion that the executive order signed by the US President has not only harmed the Palestinian cause, but has also torpedoed the three-decade old peace negotiations. Nonetheless, he believes that this cloud has a silver lining, and that the decision requires the Palestinian factions to reconcile and start anew. He also believes that Trump’s decision has made the Palestinian-Israeli conflict a priority once again, not only for the region but the entire world.

“At a time when the conflict has become marginal to the world, Trump’s decision has rallied the support of the majority of, if not all, the states for the Palestinians. It has also paved the way for internal reconciliation,” he said.

Al Rishq added that Hamas has demonstrated a great deal of flexibility and is looking forward to a brighter future. However, according to him, there are certain obstacles that must be resolved for all the Palestinians to come together.

He said, “This decision, however harmful, demands that the Muslim countries transcend their internal differences and team up. The entire Muslim nation must join forces in defence of the holy city ofJerusalem. The question here is whether it is possible to reverse Trump’s decision?”

Al Rishq maintained that any resolution of the conflict over the lawful rights of the Palestinian people is doomed. “Throughout their struggle, the Palestinian people have sacrificed their lives to hold steadfast to the holy city, both east and west Jerusalem. The popular movement in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the 1948 territories and the whole Arab World, backed by free people from all over the world is living proof that the Palestinian cause is the core issue in the hearts and minds of the whole world,” he added.

According to Al Rishq, the Palestinians are banking on a continued popular uprising against the Israeli occupation. Only an uprising is capable of mobilising the peoples and leaders of the world against Trump and his resolutions.

“There is an unprecedented response to the Palestinian cause. We, at Hamas, are keen on our national reconciliation and ending our internal rift. The more united the Palestinian people are, the more capable they are of imposing their strategy on Israel,” he argued.

He also added that Hamas has never pinned hopes on the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations – neither have the Palestinian people. “What is taking place is not a process of settlement; but a process of extermination. Hamas does not trust the US administration, which has always been sided with Israel. Rights are denied, not respected. After 30 years of pointless negotiations, we have reached a dead-end. No more time should be wasted on this frivolous process,” he said.

Al Rishq concluded that it is apparent that the US sponsor is neither honest nor objective; but no time should be wasted on seeking a replacement. “We must stop chasing this mirage, and pause to consider all that has occurred. The Palestinian National Council must convene in full and re-examine the entire past. It must devise a new strategy based on resistance and uprising: one people, one strategy,” he said.

The Palestinian cause: the least of the world’s worries

Hayajneh holds that Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel did not come as a surprise. The move has been anticipated given the United States’ declining concern for the Palestinian cause. He notes that neither the Arab states nor the Palestinian Authority (PA) has had a strategy for tackling the Israeli occupation.

“Certain issues are crystal clear: Republicans no longer support the two-state solution. The Bush administration did not initiate any contact with the Palestinian Authority. Even Obama did not address the Palestinian cause. As a result, the Arab-Israeli conflict is no longer a core issue for US politicians. The rules of the game have changed in the United States, and we should not have waited until it is too late,” he asserted.

The professor blamed the Arab states for what the Palestinian cause has come to. “Now, new slogans are hoisted and new polices are declared by the Arab regimes. Israel is no longer their enemy as they pretend to take an anti-Iran stance. Strangely enough, the Arab League has not organised an emergency meeting on Jerusalem. Rather, it held only a ministerial session,” he explained.

On the other hand, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation reacted swiftly to the decision and held an emergency summit, which some did not attend. Overall, everything the Arabs have tried to address the occupation, especially bargaining on the United States, must be abandoned.

“There is no doubt that had the Arab Spring revolutions not been suppressed at birth, freely elected regimes would have been in place and the Arab peoples would have been able to hold them accountable. So, the popular uprising remains the only solution. However, those who have advocated for negotiations for decades cannot speak of an uprising now. New blood and new minds are needed direly. At the same time, Europe cannot be relied on as European regimes speak in rejection, but do not act, as we have seen in Iraq,” said Hayajneh.

Hayajneh concluded by saying the Arab world has adapted to US foreign policies, which was demonstrated during the American invasion of Iraq, the change in approaches and the war against terrorism. No differently, The Arabs will adapt to Jerusalem being the capital of Israel.

The United States’ stance on Jerusalem remains consistent

Lovatt is of the opinion that the US policy towards Israel and Jerusalem has not changed. He explained that Trump’s stance, however stern, is an extension of the stance taken by all the previous US administrations on Jerusalem. In fact, many presidential candidates had promised to recognise the holy city as the capital of Israel but did not do so. Trump, however, promised and delivered.

“In order to understand Trump’s move, we need to understand that under Trump’s administration, the United States is not very concerned about international law, global understanding or international institutions,” said Lovatt.

 “In response to what was said earlier about Europe rejecting what the United States does but failing to act, it should be borne in mind that the Europeans have acknowledged the failure of the Oslo process that lasted 25 years under the auspices of the United States. This does not mean that Europe can replace the United States as a mediator; but the Europeans have reached a turning point in their policies and should declare a clear position in support of the Palestinians, especially since the United States no longer supports the two-state solution. Therefore, Europe must speak up and act rather than merely express concern about US policy towards Israel,” he elaborated.

Lovatt concluded that Europe must take a more rigorous stance towards the two-state solution. The Europeans must help the Palestinians achieve their sovereignty over the West Bank and Gaza Strip and consider backing the Palestinian reconciliation.

What next?

Seeking an alternative sponsor

Eshtaya is of the opinion that negotiations have reached a dead-end and that the mediatory role of the United States in the Arab-Israeli conflict has been torpedoed beyond repair.

 “Since 1917, the Palestinians have been through many plights and fought many battles. The US Congress has rubberstamped more than 20 resolutions against the PA and the PLO, including suspension of financial aid, branding the organisation as a terrorist group and, most recently, shutting down the PA’s office in Washington DC,” he said.

Eshtaya explained that the US Administration, in addition to the announcement of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, aims to seal “deal of the century.” This is the overall vision on the basis of which the Palestinians would be pressured to yield. The details of this deal have not been disclosed, but its features include Jerusalem’s position as the new capital and the waiver of the right of return.

“The frailty of the Arab states, which are consumed by internal and/or regional conflicts as is the case in Libya, Iraq, Syria and Yemen was taken advantage of. The era of Arab decline was a distraction from the Palestinian cause. Nonetheless, the Palestinians are capable of defending their cause no matter how great their sacrifices are. We cannot accept the decision,” said Eshtaya.

He reiterated that the temporal division of Al Aqsa was determined by Jerusalem’s locals when the call for prayers came from the churches. This marks the end of an era and the beginning of another.

Eshtaya concluded, “The United States’ mediatory role has ended and the course of negotiations has been thwarted. We have a few options: it is no longer a unipolar American world; Russia, China and the other BRICS countries have a role to play. The world cannot be held hostage to US policies. The new challenge is initiating new courses with new poles.”

National reconciliation is the answer

According to Al Rishq, before seeking an alternative sponsor for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the Palestinians should reconsider the course they have taken for decades, particularly the Oslo accords.

“Mahmoud Abbas must acknowledge that the Oslo accords are over. The Palestinian people have given their all and have gotten nothing in return. It is the time for the PA to be honest with the people, and declare that the course of negotiations has ended and take on pragmatic stances,” he maintained.

Al Rishq explained that the Palestinian National Council must be the only umbrella under which all the Palestinians must come together. Popular resistance should continue and not necessarily with arms.

“Fatah has come to a stalemate. All the Palestinian factions must adopt a new strategy built on one mutual goal: ending the occupation. Once united on one front, the Palestinians can then seek support from the Arab, Muslim and whole worlds. A clear strategy and a new course that are based on resistance and end security coordination measures with the Israelis are necessary,” he declared.

Hayajneh reaffirmed the necessity of reconciliation among all the Palestinian factions. Above all, he says, the Palestinians and the Arabs must abandon all the previous strategies that were tested and failed.

Speaking of Palestinian reconciliation, Lovatt emphasised that Israel will not allow for any party other than the United States to sponsor the peace process.

He concluded: “Only is capable of ending the occupation at any time. Still, there should be a driving force. Within this context, rather than looking for alternative sponsors, a Palestinian internal reconciliation is needed to pressure Israel.”

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