January 31, 2020 / 2:05 PM / a month ago

Palestinians face uphill battle against Trump's Middle East plan

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - When Palestinian leaders learned that the release of U.S. President Donald Trump’s Middle East plan was imminent, they swiftly announced a “day of rage” - a gritty, oft-used call for resistance against Israel.

A representation of a map with the colors of the Palestinian flag reading "Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Palestine" is placed on a fence as a Jewish settlement is seen during a protest against the U.S. President Donald Trump's Middle East peace plan, in the village of Bilin in the Israeli-occupied West Bank January 31, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

But few demonstrators actually took to the streets despite Palestinians’ broad rejection of Trump’s proposal, a gap between rhetoric and delivery that exposes the scale of the challenge their leaders face in pressuring the United States and Israel.

As in past decades, critics are branding the Palestinians as naysayers, continually rejecting offers of a settlement in the hope, so far futile, of something better to come.

And domestic frustration with the Palestinian leadership has been building for years, with an ageing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas seeking a legacy but having dwindling scope to demonstrate progress toward his people’s dream of freedom.

Contrary to expectations, Trump did propose a “two-state” solution for the conflict - but with strict conditions that would leave any future Palestinian state under near-complete Israeli security control.

Trump’s endorsement of Israel keeping its settlements delighted right-wingers, who immediately urged the extension of Israeli sovereignty to nearly 30% of the occupied West Bank, which Israel captured in a 1967 war.

Palestinians say such moves would lead to apartheid. Israel rejects any comparison of its policies towards the Palestinians to South Africa’s former system of legally-mandated racial segregation.

Analysts say that Palestinians face a difficult road ahead.

“They don’t have good options. Responding positively to the Trump peace plan is impossible for any Palestinian leader. He would be seen as having sold out the Palestinian national cause completely,” said Greg Shapland, a Middle East specialist at London’s Chatham House think tank.

“(This) whole exercise seems to be structured in such a way that the Palestinians would have to refuse it and then the Americans can say to Israel and to the rest of the world, ‘go ahead and do it’ because the Palestinians are clearly not interested in peace,” Shapland said.

That attack line has already been used by Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and principal architect of the plan.

“We’re not going to chase the Palestinians,” he told reporters. “It will be very hard for them to play the victim card when they basically have a real deal on the table.”

INTERNATIONAL OPPOSITION

One avenue for Abbas, 84, is to use the United Nations to drum up international opposition to Trump’s plan.

But Washington can veto any move in the Security Council. And even if Abbas wins support in the General Assembly it will have little more practical effect than a 2017 vote calling on Trump to drop his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

That secured 128 of 193 votes in support of the Palestinian argument, but was only a rhetorical show of support.

Abbas will also try other routes. On Saturday he travels to Cairo for a meeting of the Arab League, where he will engage regional allies.

But many Arab states rely on U.S. military aid or financial backing. And most are led by Sunni Muslim administrations that are aligned with the United States and Israel in confronting Iran’s revolutionary Shi’ite theocracy.

Diana Buttu, a former legal adviser to the Palestine Liberation Organization, said it was important to “hold the (Arab) states who were part of this charade to account” but that it wasn’t likely to strengthen the Palestinians’ hand.

“A better strategy is to begin to hold Israel accountable, whether it’s through sanctions or legal (moves),” she said.

One such legal move is at the International Criminal Court, whose chief prosecutor is seeking an investigation into alleged war crimes in the Palestinian Territories.

Slideshow (13 Images)

The court is still deciding if it has jurisdiction. Israel says the court has no jurisdiction to investigate the Palestinian Territories.

For a GRAPHIC on the Trump proposal, click on tmsnrt.rs/2GwQgc6

For A factbox on the plan, click on reut.rs/38U4HmU

Additional reporting by Stephen Farrell in Jerusalem, Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, Ali Sawafta in Ramallah, Michelle Nichols in New York and Luke Baker in London, Editing by William Maclean

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