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Elections or not, US offers no hope for Palestinians

As world leaders reacted to Donald Trump’s US presiden­tial election victory, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas did not want to be left out. “Abbas congratulates the elected Ameri­can president, Donald Trump, and hopes that peace will be achieved during his term,” said a statement on the official Palestinian news agency.

Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said the Palestinians were ready to work “with any president elected by the American people on the principle of achieving permanent peace in the Middle East based on the two-state solution”.

Palestinian former chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said the US position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “will not change with the coming administration… We hope the next US administration will turn the talk about the principle of a two-state solution into a reality on the ground.”

Meanwhile, Israeli ministers were celebrating the pending arrival of a US administration they anticipate will give its blessing to the annexation of Palestinian West Bank land or, at the very least, facilitate a Jewish settlement construction bonanza.

What exactly is it going to take for the Palestinian leadership to chart a new course of action?

A recap of US President Barack Obama’s legacy when it comes to the Palestinian territories shows that over his 8-year presidency, Israeli settlements expanded under the political leadership of right-wing and far-right Israeli ministers who openly reject Palestinian statehood in any form.

Obama’s inauguration in 2009 took place two days after the end of Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip known as Operation Cast Lead. During Obama’s time in office, Israel launched two further large-scale offensives on Gaza, including the unprecedentedly brutal Operation Protective Edge in 2014.

Despite that, and a raft of discriminatory and ultra-nationalist legislation passed by the Knesset and a spike in home demolitions, Obama took no serious action against Israel. In fact, he oversaw the completion of a new, multibillion-dollar military aid deal.

This took place under a president loathed by many Israelis as “pro- Palestinian” and who, all else aside, clearly does not like Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Yet despite all that, Obama delivered nothing for the Palestinians.

That alone should be enough for the Palestinian leadership to abandon this tired, bankrupt approach of hoping that Washington will reward good behaviour with pressure on the Israeli government. With four years of a Trump administration beckoning, this must be the final straw.

The strategy has always been flawed. US support for Israel is shaped by Washington’s own regional priorities, mutual economic and military interests and an active domestic lobby — fiscal responsibility in Ramallah and security coordination with the Israeli military cannot change that.

Palestinians need a strategy that does not depend on the largesse of Western governments, an urgency felt all the more keenly with Trump’s victory and the rising success of right-wing populists in Europe who offer Israel only unrestrained backing as an outpost against Islamist extremism.

Addressing the prospect of Trump moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, Palestinian Ambassador to the United Nations Riyad Mansour warned that his government would be ready to use “all of the weapons that we have in the UN to defend ourselves”.

Perhaps Mansour is being serious but, if so, why have these “weapons” not already been deployed? We know why. It is the same logic that saw Abbas attend the funeral of Israeli former president Shimon Peres in September. Impress the Americans and Europeans in the hope that maybe, just maybe, they will change their habits of a lifetime.

It is past time to dump this failed strategy. Obama’s eight years and now Trump’s victory make this crystal clear.

Published first by The Arab Weekly.

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