Saturday, January 16, 2021

Trump still vague about "ultimate deal" as Palestinians say it cannot ignore their basic rights

By The Palestine Monitor - May 24, 2017
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [Peace Process] [US foreign policy] [Hunger Strike]

On May 22 and 23, U.S. President Donald Trump visited Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories amid much speculation about his promise to close the “ultimate deal” between Israel and the Palestinians.
Trump met Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Monday, May 22, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the Presidential Palace in the Occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem on Tuesday.
However, two days of speeches have done little to shed light on what kind of “deal” the businessman-turned-president intends to put on the table, and some remain skeptical that a positive political paradigm shift would result for the Palestinians.
When it comes to finding a resolution to the conflict, Trump said earlier this year: “I'm looking at two state and one state, and I’m very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one.” The statement, which some analysts branded as naïve, was in fact in line with Trump's campaign platform, in which he made no mention of a two-state solution, the bedrock of decades of US policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Disillusionment Over Trump’s "Ultimate Deal"
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War that led to the ongoing occupation of the West Bank and Israel's unilateral annexation of East Jerusalem, where Trump visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Western Wall, making him the first U.S. president to visit the latter in the contested city.  
Trump's visit fell on the 36th and 37th day of an open-ended hunger strike by more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. Palestinians called for a general strike on Monday, which was observed in Palestinian towns and cities in Israel as well, and a 'day of rage' on Tuesday to highlight the prisoners' demands. 
This past Saturday, Trump was in Saudi Arabia, where he signed a $100 billion weapons deal, furthering his plans of formulating close ties with the powerful regime against the threat of Iran. During his visit, Trump also attended the Arab Islamic American Summit in Riyadh, along with Abbas and 50 other leaders of countries with a Muslim majority population. At the summit, Trump stated, "[w]e need to stand together against the murder of women, the persecution of Jews and the slaughter of Christians… If these three faiths can join, peace in this world is possible, including peace between Israel and the Palestinians."
Trump had hosted Abbas in early May and Netanyahu in February at the White House. His time in office so far has been fraught with contradictory statements. During his campaign, Trump had vocally backed moving the U.S. embassy from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem, which was met with criticism from the international community and the Palestinians, for whom it would mean recognising Israel's unilateral declaration of Jerusalem as its “united capital”, while Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
With the appointment of what analysts have described as the most pro-Israel U.S. administration in decades, it remains unclear what to expect from the new U.S. President. During his meeting with Netanyahu at the White House earlier this year, he asked the Israeli prime minister to “hold off on the settlements for a little bit” and later ruled out any immediate relocation of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. 
Speaking with Al Jazeera, Palestinian politician Mohamed Shtayyeh stated: “If Trump can deliver Netanyahu on the issue of settlements, I think we'll have a good way out. If not, then I think the whole process will be doomed.”
                                              Protesters gathered in Ramallah as a general strike was announced to coincide with Trump's visit  

General Strike for Palestinian prisoners to coincide with Trump's visit
Upon Trump’s arrival on Monday, Palestinians observed a general strike across the West Bank and East Jerusalem, where the vast majority of businesses remained shut for the entire day. Palestinians gathered at the tents set up in each city and village in support of the hunger strikers. 
While the usually-bustling Ramallah city centre looked like a ghost town, more than 100 people were at the protest tent set up for the hunger-striking prisoners in one of Ramallah's main squares on Monday morning as employees had taken a day off work.
“I think coming here is the minimum we can do for our prisoners, to show that we stand with them, and tell the world the Palestinian story and the prisoners' fair demands,” Saja Misherqi, a 25-year-old lawyer from Nazareth, a Palestinian city in present-day Israel, told Palestine Monitor at the tent.
While during his speech in Bethlehem on Tuesday the U.S. President reiterated that “unlocking the potential of the Palestinian economy” would be one of his priorities alongside eradicating “terrorism”, Saja is sceptical of this approach.
“He's dealing with it like it's a business, and it's not about business. Like, I will give you money and you will give me your freedom. It's not about that,” she said, adding that Palestine “is not a business issue” and that an economic peace model would not suffice. “We have rights and we will not give them up,” she said.
In Bethlehem on the day of Trump's visit, activists and the families of prisoners currently on hunger strike had gathered at the Nativity Square, with a handful of prisoners' mothers and activists sleeping at the tent overnight Monday.
Among the prisoners' demands is an end to administrative detention, the need for improved access to education and healthcare in Israeli prisons, and more family visits.
“We think these are just and human demands,” Sajida Allan, a 23-year-old activist from Aida refugee camp near Bethlehem told Palestine Monitor at the protest tent in Manger Square, Bethlehem, as Trump's motorcade was making its way to the West Bank city from Jerusalem. Her brother was sentenced to life for a bombing attack during the second intifada, and is one of the prisoners on hunger strike.
“As for Trump, we are disappointed he has decided not to come here,” she added, referring to the U.S. President's reported cancellation of a planned visit to the nearby Church of the Nativity, a landmark stop for any visitor to the Holy Land. Unconfirmed reports suggested the cancellation was due to the presence of the protest tent. 
“The presence of President Trump is an occasion to draw more attention to the national mobilisation [in support of prisoners], in the hope that the issue will get the appropriate attention by President Trump and by the rest of the world,” Majed Bamya, a Palestinian diplomat who is in charge of the prisoners' file, Palestine Monitor. “[This] is an important issue, including for anybody who wants to make the 'historic deal' between Israelis and Palestinians.”
                         Palestinians were disappointed Trump decided to cancel his visit to the Nativity Church, near the protest tent set up for hunger strikers in Bethlehem


No plan
After the President's visit, it remains unclear what kind of plan Trump and the American administration might have in store for resurrecting the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
“We have had so many plans, and it didn’t work. So perhaps if we start without a plan, it might work,” said Husam Zomlot, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO) Ambassador to Washington at an event Monday hosted by the Arab Center. “They were a major reason why we failed, because they had a habit of framing the agenda that was exactly in the opposite agenda of peace, an agenda that wanted to create and build and sustain a process that was designed to prevent the outcome,” Zomlot added.
During his speech at the Presidential Palace in Bethlehem, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas reiterated that the Palestinian leadership was still committed to a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders and the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel with East Jerusalem as its capital.
"Contrary to Netanyahu's plan of one state and two systems, apartheid, the only alternative to two sovereign and democratic states on the 1967 border is one single secular and democratic state with equal rights for everyone, Christians, Muslims, and Jews, on all of historic Palestine,″ said secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation and Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat in a statement earlier this year.
It remains to be seen how much of their vision the Palestinians will be asked to compromise in a new American-led “process” towards a peace deal.
Ayesha Khan contributed to this report.

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