Mahmoud Jaraba, a researcher and lecturer at Erlangen Center for Islam and Law in Europe (EZIRE) and the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Germany. Follow him on Twitter @MahmoudJaraba.
President Donald Trump said that recognizing East and West Jerusalem as the unified capital of Israel and moving the U.S. Embassy there from Tel Aviv would advance the Israeli–Palestinian peace process. Contrary to his stated goal, this step has created a crisis threatening the future of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and instead paved the way for a new cycle of mass unrest.
Since signing the Oslo Accord in 1993, the PA has worked to establish an independent Palestinian state whose capital is East Jerusalem. It is not plausible that Palestinians will accept the U.S. recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and at the same time still accept the U.S. as a fair and impartial broker. Herein lies the current quandary for the Palestinian leadership headed by President Mahmoud Abbas. If it still accepts Washington as a peace broker, it risks losing its own legitimacy with the Palestinian people. But if it refuses to do so, it will antagonize the Trump administration, possibly resulting in an unbearably high cost, such as its own isolation or downfall. In either scenario, the PA comes out as the biggest loser. Trump’s decision did not only “strip the United States of its eligibility as an intermediary in the peace process,” as Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said, but also could trigger the collapse of the PA and its fragile institutions. In this case, anything is possible for the Palestinian political situation, including the reoccupation of the West Bank by Israel.
Faced with the challenge of the U.S. decision and the fear of losing its popular legitimacy, the PA will try to reconcile these two starkly opposing options. Despite the string of statements by PA officials that they will not meet with U.S. officials—including Vice President Mike Pence, who is scheduled to visit Tel Aviv on December 18—the PA has announced it will continue to search for a peaceful resolution. Yet it is trying to use different tactics that do not rely on U.S mediation. This was clear in Mahmoud Abbas’s speech before the Islamic Summit in Istanbul on December 13, during which he called upon Muslim countries “to move the entire profile of the conflict to the United Nations and the formation of a new mechanism to adopt the implementation of resolutions of international legitimacy, as the U.S. is no longer an honest negotiations mediator.” In other words, Abbas is trying to seek new sponsors for the diplomatic process for peace.
The PA has also turned a blind eye to the mass protests in the West Bank, while preventing them from snowballing into acts of violence. After Trump’s announcement, all of the Palestinian political forces called for public protests. The two main players on the Palestinian scene, Hamas and Fatah, supported this step, but only Hamas called for a new intifada.
In his decision, Trump killed any hope for a peace process. Trump’s announcement said nothing about Palestinian rights, as he did not address the Palestinians as a crucial partner in the peace process. This might indicate that the Trump administration has already started planning for a nascent, ill-defined post-Oslo phase. These actions likely will not include the Palestinians as an actor, but rather involve U.S. coordination with some Arab allies such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
This article was translated from Arabic.