By Vipul Gupta
The Palestine-Israel issue has been on constant simmer since Donald Trump’s ascendancy to the US presidency. The US, which has in the past played a central role in negotiations to end the protracted conflict, has been openly called “biased” by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The issue gained renewed focus after the US decided to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Meanwhile, Hamas and Israeli forces have indulged in renewed fighting for weeks, further complicating the issue.
The Trump administration has for months been at loggerheads with the Palestinian authorities, which came to a head on February 20. While addressing the UN Security Council, Abbas raised the need to revitalise the peace process with a conference this year under UN, not US, leadership. Notably, Abbas said his administration has been ready to move forward on a peace deal but criticised the Trump administration for not clarifying its position on the two-state solution.
Under Trump, the US has made a marked departure from its historic stance on the Palestine-Israel conflict—a two-state solution. During the Obama era, the US pushed to restart direct negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians, with former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and her successor John Kerry declaring the two-state solution as the US’s favoured approach to end the conflict. However, despite decades of effort to bring the two sides to the table to strike a deal, the US’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has now upended the status quo. The status of Jerusalem—a holy site for Muslims, Jews and Christians—has been a point of contention between the two sides in all negotiations.
Palestine unlikely to capitulate
In the aftermath of the US’s move to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Palestinian distrust has increased manifold. For Abbas, who has been at the helm of Palestinian affairs since 2005, any discussion with the US or Israel at this point would amount to political suicide.
Knowing this, Abbas is keen to keep the US from dictating terms. Besides, after Trump threatened to cut humanitarian aid to Palestine if it doesn’t restart peace talks, the Palestinians are unlikely to make any concessions so as not to appear to be submitting to US will.
What lies ahead?
Although it is clear Trump’s strategy is a clear departure from what has been the US’s stance on the conflict, many questions remain about what exactly drives this new approach. Trump seems to be on a path to completely disregard Palestine and any progress made towards the two-state solution thus far, even while wooing traditional Palestinian allies Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The Trump administration also appears to want to bolster Israel’s position in the Arab world by giving the Arab nations a new enemy, Iran. The US’s clout in the region and ability to pressurise countries into bending to its will vis a vis Jerusalem is certain to worry the Palestinians.
Abbas has been quick to push for a multilateral peace dialogue under UN sponsorship, dismissing the US’s traditional position as chief negotiator. Abbas hopes that under the overview of the Security Council members, the European Union and other UN member nations, any peace talk will be fair to both sides.
But it is highly unlikely that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will let Abbas dictate the terms of the peace process. For him, like Abbas, getting to the negotiating table is as much about resolving the conflict as it is about maintaining his political stature. Besides, given that most UN member states are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, it is unlikely that Israel will ever agree to talks under UN patronage. In fact, Netanyahu is so contemptuous of the UN that he went so far as to label it the “the house of lies” after it voted against the US’s move to shift its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Featured Image Source: Pixabay
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