For Palestinians, America Was Never an Honest Broker
The Trump administration’s policies don’t represent a radical shift. The White House has simply abandoned the facade of neutrality and rubber-stamped the Israeli government’s agenda.
For decades, Palestinian leaders have engaged in a rigged peace process, seeking to force the international community’s blueprint for a Palestinian state onto the population of the West Bank and Gaza. The United States, meanwhile, has sought to maintain the fiction that it is an honest broker and neutral mediator.
The Trump administration has finally dropped that mask, revealing Washington’s true colors. As offensive as the pro-Israel mantras emanating from the White House may be for Palestinians, it is a clarifying moment.
Since 1967, the Palestinians have tried everything to free themselves from Israel’s brutal occupation. They tried armed resistance, which got them exiled from Arab states, paving the way for the Oslo Accords; they tried unarmed resistance, which got them media coverage but also jail time; they tried neoliberal economics, which got them aid money and nice cafes in Ramallah; and they tried diplomacy, joining international organizations and United Nations bodies as a state, which got them threats from Israel and the United States.
Washington has long brokered peace negotiations under the flawed premise of two equal sides vying for the same piece of land. When President Donald Trump came to power, many Palestinian officials viewed him with guarded eagerness, holding out hope that his unpredictable shoot-from-the-hip style could translate into a win for them. They could not have been more wrong.
When rumors began emerging that Trump actually did plan on moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in support of Israel claiming the city as its “undivided capital,” there were murmurs that he would also open a U.S. Embassy somewhere in East Jerusalem. But there was no twin embassy opened. Instead, there was a triumphalist ceremony headlined by Trump’s son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner, four Republican senators, and, oddly, Steven Mnuchin, the treasury secretary. Just 60 miles away, in the Gaza Strip, protests erupted over the move, where 58 unarmed demonstrators were killed and over 2,000 others were injured by the Israeli army.
Then, on Aug. 31, the Trump administration went after the U.N. agency responsible for Palestinian refugees. The United States has long been a lifeline for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), but the administration cut all aid to it, calling it “irredeemably flawed” and “unsustainable.”
The final straw was the closure of the PLO representative office in Washington earlier this week on the grounds that Palestinian leaders had failed to advance final status negotiations with Israel while seeking the prosecution of Israeli officials at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. In fact, the Trump administration has been working hard to settle the final status issues—borders, Jerusalem, and the refugees—in Israel’s favor. The only hurdle they have faced is finding a way to bully the Palestinians into acceptance.
The White House has made clear that it is willing to weaponize aid, and U.S. officials have not concealed the fact that they are seeking leverage over the Palestinians in order to force them to submit to Trump’s long-promised “deal of the century” peace plan.
Palestinian officials are aghast. But ask the average Palestinian what they think and it might surprise you: Yes, the closure of the PLO office is a slap in the face. But this is not an aberration in U.S. policy—it is the logical conclusion of years of a pro-Israel orientation.
Without that historical basis, it wouldn’t have been so easy to defund UNRWA, move the embassy to Jerusalem, and close the PLO representative office. After all, the existence of the policies Trump has scrapped depended on waivers that were signed by previous administrations. All Trump had to do was refrain from signing them.
Israel has already carved out its borders through the 1948 and 1967 wars. Since then, it has built a wall, an intricate web of settlements, settler-only roads, and closed military zones in the West Bank that define every aspect of Palestinians’ lives.
With Jerusalem recognized as Israel’s capital, the Palestinian future holds no capital, no meaningful independence, and no right of return for refugees—meaning that any future state would be stillborn.
The so-called peace process has empowered the worst and most corrupt actors in Palestinian society. The PLO hasn’t spoken for the majority of Palestinians for decades and is now mainly a one-party entity. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has made sure of it. In recent weeks, as the world looked elsewhere, he took a series of steps to tighten his grip on Palestinian governmental bodies. He took over as chairman of the National Fund, the PLO’s finance ministry, in defiance of the PLO’s bylaws, which stipulate that this position be elected by the Palestinian National Council, the Palestinian parliament in exile.
He has ensured the ouster of his few remaining critics within the PLO Executive Committee by approving a new structure with compliant members. In addition to controlling the executive branch (he is head of the PLO Executive Committee and the ruling Fatah party, as well as president of the Palestinian Authority), he has also undermined an independent judiciary, creating a Constitutional Court that can revoke the immunity of parliament members, effectively silencing critics.
For years, the Palestinian security forces’ crackdown on journalists and critical activists has been a source of worry for rights groups. They have noted the adoption of decrees like the Electronic Crimes Law, which paves the way for the arbitrary detention of those who criticize the PA online.
In light of these changes, the PLO representative office may not be so sorely missed by many Palestinians. Finally, people can see the duplicitous nature of the Oslo process, and of the economic and security policy that has failed to empower the majority of Palestinians and has instead made them worse off than they were.
Indeed, Palestinians find themselves in a lonely, isolated place; there is no help coming from the Americans, the Gulf Arabs, or the U.N. The future will be filled with the sort of pain and misery that was staved off in the past thanks to the steroid of international aid.
But Washington’s moves are also clarifying. In a recent survey, the majority of Palestinians said that if and when the United States unveils its much-touted peace deal, they expect it to work in Israel’s favor. The peace deal is pretty clearly laid out already: Jerusalem is Israel’s, and if the Palestinians want their own “Jerusalem,” it will be behind the separation wall, in Abu Dis or another nearby village; the wall is in fact the border; and the U.S. plan to dissolve UNRWA will take the right of return off the table, because refugee status would not be passed down through the generations.
The Trump administration figured that the time was ripe for this sort of deal, because Saudi Arabia and other Arab states are abandoning the Palestinian cause as they shift their attention to Iran. As the U.S. strategy under Trump has crystallized, it has become clear that Washington plans to use pressure tactics to coerce Palestinians into accepting whatever breadcrumbs are thrown their way.
Trump has dispensed with the usual White House lip service about peace: talk of a two-state solution, condemnations of settlement-building, and other cliches that Palestinians have heard repeatedly over the years. Instead, he and his underlings have unapologetically regurgitated Israeli talking points. That’s hardly surprising given the deep personal ties Kushner and the U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, have to Israel and its settlements.
Young Palestinians, meanwhile, make up about a third of the population, and many have lived their entire lives under Abbas’s rule, seeing nothing but empty promises from consecutive U.S. administrations. This has empowered them to look elsewhere: Some have embraced civil disobedience, long championed by many West Bank villages, on a national level or the tactics of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement, which, despite its limitations, has seen some successes.
But they have also paid a price. Since March, 179 Palestinians have been killed, mostly in demonstrations taking place in Gaza. The footage of young Palestinians being gunned down stands in stark contrast to the suits in Ramallah fighting over political breadcrumbs as Abbas, who has no heir apparent, approaches his 83rd birthday.
For too long, the PA leadership has adhered to a peace process that benefited only a few elites within their ranks, while refusing to acknowledge that another path was possible. Trump’s moves against the Palestinians may be infuriating, but they are merely the culmination of decades of a failed and one-sided U.S. policy.
Freed from the reins of a dishonest American interlocutor, the Palestinians now have an opportunity to carve out their own path by further embracing grassroots organizing, supporting independent Palestinian institutions that eschew international aid, and rallying new supporters around the world.