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Palestinians on Edge


Palestinians Charge Trump Offering ‘Fake Jerusalem’ as Capital

February 22nd 2018

Abbas UN

With its sky-lit lantern dome, tiered floors and speaker’s well, the long-abandoned parliament building on the edge of East Jerusalem needs only a few finishing touches to make it an ideal setting for the birth of a Palestinian state.

All that’s missing to resurrect the majestic structure in the West Bank village of Abu Dis, once a symbol of efforts to resolve competing Israeli and Palestinian claims to Jerusalem, are some lighting fixtures, a few truckloads of furniture -- and the “ultimate deal” President Donald Trump has promised to unveil. 

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, having already rejected that deal sight unseen, told the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday that the U.S. can no longer lead peace efforts.

Washington lost its legitimacy, Abbas said, after declaring Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Last month, he explained to senior Palestinian officials that Washington was instead preparing to propose Abu Dis -- a Jerusalem suburb now cut off from the holy city by Israel’s West Bank separation barrier -- as the capital of Palestine.

Backing Away

Abbas left the Security Council chamber immediately after he spoke, skipping the response of U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley, who said Trump’s recognition of Israel’s capital was firm. The U.S. offers an “outstretched hand” to the Palestinian people, she said, but “we will not chase after you.”

The Palestinians “don’t have a lot of doors or exit ramps,” said Aaron David Miller, a former U.S. negotiator and now an analyst at the Wilson Center in Washington. Abbas’s “viability lies in the power of the weak, the capacity to withhold participation in any meaningful negotiation.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has appeared to back away from his 2009 commitment to a Palestinian state and has pledged to bolster Israeli settlements in the West Bank, where 400,000 Jews live amid about 2.5 million Palestinians. An additional 200,000 Jews live in eastern Jerusalem, which Israel captured with the West Bank from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war.

“Having Trump now at the White House as an almost automatic supporter of what Israel may do or not do gives Netanyahu the feeling that he does not have to succumb to any international pressure,” said Gilead Sher, Israel’s former chief negotiator and now co-chair of the “Blue-White Future” conflict-resolution group.

’No Friends’

Abbas, 82, has sought to ratchet up pressure on Israel by threatening to seek membership in the International Criminal Court at The Hague, where Palestinians could try to prosecute Israel for alleged war crimes. Some Palestinians also are promoting the BDS movement to boycott the Jewish state.

European leaders have expressed interest in restarting negotiations but aren’t willing to push the U.S. aside. French President Emmanuel Macron said he won’t revive a French-led multilateral peace initiative, urging Abbas to see what Trump offers. Before calling at the UN for multilateral peace process, Abbas floated the same idea in Moscow and Brussels, to a lukewarm response.

Even Arab leaders, who share Israel’s concern about the perceived threat from Iran, reportedly have pushed Abbas to accept Trump’s peace plan.

Abbas “has been left with almost no friends,” said Mkhaimar Abusada, a political scientist at Al-Azhar University in the Gaza Strip.

Dangerous Step

Trump’s move on Jerusalem was a “dangerous” step, Abbas told the UN on Tuesday. He ended his speech with a hint that Palestinians could react violently if their hopes for statehood are dashed.

“We beg you to help us, help us so that we do not commit an act that goes against what we want and what you want,” he said.

Abbas’s opinion of a capital in Abu Dis wasn’t always so low. When it was first identified as a potential Palestinian capital at the turn of the millennium, the idea was to incorporate the village into Jerusalem’s expanded municipal borders. The plan was co-authored by Abbas himself.

The idea was so seductive that Palestinians spent millions of dollars to build a parliament there. Then the violent uprising against Israel began, Israel built its concrete barrier following waves of suicide bombings, and the village lost its luster.

Abu Dis is “an example of the possibility of having a fake Jerusalem,” said Ghassan Khatib, a lecturer at Bir Zeit University and former P.A. cabinet member. Despite the international pressure to reconcile with Israel, he said, Abbas “can’t live with that approach.”

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