Elhanan Miller, freelance journalist and researcher on Palestinian politics at the Forum for Regional Thinking. Follow him on Twitter @ElhananMiller.
President Donald Trump’s speech on December 6, recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and announcing his intention to relocate the U.S. embassy there, weakens Mahmoud Abbas’s policy of “nothing but diplomacy.”
Trump’s speech is the culmination of a larger process that marginalizes and weakens the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the eyes of the Palestinian public. In November, the U.S. State Department threatened to shutter the PLO office in Washington following President Abbas’s call in the UN to prosecute Israeli officials at the International Criminal Court (ICC). The administration retracted the move a few days later, not before warning the office to limit its activities to “those related to achieving a lasting, comprehensive peace between the Israelis and Palestinians,” meaning not to pursue Israelis in the ICC.
Congress is now in the final stages of passing the Taylor Force Act, which will dramatically cut funding to the Palestinian Authority if it continues to pay salaries to the families of prisoners convicted for acts of violence against U.S. and Israeli citizens. The bill, named for a young American officer stabbed to death in Jaffa in March 2016, passed in the House of Representatives on December 5, and is expected to pass a vote in the Senate later this month. The abrupt slashing of funds to thousands of families will inevitably lead to widespread protests on the streets of Ramallah, largely directed at the PA and its leadership.
The process by which Fatah has been weakened and discredited plays to the advantage of Hamas. The Palestinian street remembers that in the Galid Shalit prisoner exchange of 2011, Hamas successfully freed 1,027 Palestinians from Israeli jails, while Fatah managed to release just 78 prisoners as part of the peace talks with Israel in 2013-2014. Palestinians also remember that Hamas and other “resistance” organizations in Gaza caused Ariel Sharon, one of Israel’s most hawkish prime ministers, to withdraw from the entire Gaza Strip in 2005 following a concerted series of bombardments and suicide attacks against settlements in the region.
The PLO, for its part, has achieved little since pushing Israel out of the Palestinian cities of the West Bank over 20 years ago. This deals a further blow to the Palestinian peace camp and diminishes the possibility of resumption of peace talks. Serious negotiations for peace will likely have to wait for regime change either in Ramallah, Jerusalem, or Washington.