Palestinian Leader Abbas Meets with Trump, Praising Him
Abbas flattered Trump in an effort to gain favor with him, but the US president offered nothing new in terms of US policy towards Palestinians, says Ali Abunimah of the Electronic Intifada
Aaron Maté: It’s The Real News, I’m Aaron Mate. President Donald Trump and Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas have met for the first time. Hosting Abbas at the White House, Trump said he will work hard on a peace deal.
Donald Trump: We want to create peace between Israel and the Palestinians. We will get it done. We will be working so hard to get it done. It’s been a long time, but we will be working diligently, and I think there’s a very, very good chance and I think you feel the same.
Aaron Maté: Abbas praised Trump for “courageous leadership and great negotiating ability.” But Abbas also repeated long-time Palestinian demands, an independent state, the right of return for Palestinian refugees, and freedom for Palestinian prisoners. Israel, with US backing has long rejected those terms in favor of expanded occupation. Abbas arrives in the US during the third week of a hunger strike by more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. Abbas is also sparring with rival Hamas, threatening to cut the entire power supply of the Gaza Strip. In a challenge to Abbas, Hamas recently unveiled a new charter that adopts a more moderate tone.
Joining me is Ali Abunimah, co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine. Ali, welcome.
Ali Abunimah: Thank you, Aaron.
Aaron Maté: So I mentioned some of the other developments that are happening on the ground in the occupied territories. There’s hunger strike. You have Hamas unveiling a new charter and Abbas threatening to cut the power supply of the Gaza Strip, and we’ll get to that. But the news of the day is Abbas visiting the White House and Abbas and Trump appearing together. Trump vowing to work hard for peace. What’s your take on that?
Ali Abunimah: Well it was like a caricature version of all the White House meetings that we’ve seen for so many decades now. It sort of represented everything wrong with this repeated show, where pundits and politicians declare that there’s a new historic opportunity for peace and everyone declares their hope, and says that this time something will happen. There’s absolutely zero reason to believe that. Abbas went in groveling and flattering Trump, calling him courageous and wise, and all of these things.
And Trump offered absolutely nothing new. Remember back eight years when Obama came into office, we had the same show of everyone declaring hope and a new beginning for the peace process. Well Trump hasn’t changed any of Obama’s policies, which was to continue to allow Israel to voraciously steal Palestinian land, to do nothing to check Israel’s brutal repression of millions of people. To do nothing to alleviate the siege of Gaza, and Trump is even doubling down by declaring that he wants to move the US embassy to Jerusalem and so on. So there’s zero reason to believe Trump’s assertion that he is going to do anything that will change this situation for the better.
Aaron Maté: Abbas right now is facing record low popularity. I believe the last poll I saw said that two-thirds of the Palestinian population in the territories want him to resign. Now, he’s sparring again with Hamas, which has been a long time struggle. Can you talk about his move towards the Gaza Strip, and Hamas recent charter adopting, as I said, a more moderate tone, tacitly accepting a Palestinian state within the West Bank and Gaza.
Ali Abunimah: I think a key thing to point out from what Donald Trump said, in the press conference with Abbas, is he pointed … He said very little of substance. The only specifics he gave was to praise Abbas and the Palestinian Authority for their collaboration with the Israeli occupation forces, who suppress any and all Palestinian resistance to Israel’s ongoing occupation colonization, expanded occupation, as you have called it. So that’s the only praiseworthy thing that the Palestinian leader is doing, collaborating with the oppresses of his people to make the oppression cheaper and more smooth for Israel. And that really highlights the problem here, is that Abbas is running a regime that is dependent on Israeli support, dependent on American support, and is not in a position to really make any demands or to put any pressure on the United States or Israel. At the same time, he is competing with Hamas, which although it has politically moved much more in Abbas’ direction, has been engaged in armed struggle with Israel and continues to be engaged in arm struggle with Israel from time to time.
So you have a fundamental incompatibility between Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority, that they’re working hand in hand with the Israeli occupation as Donald Trump accurately said. One of the more accurate things he’s said recently. And on the other hand, Hamas, which remains committed to using arm struggle, at least to defend Palestinians or to deter Israel. And that struggle has been going on now for ten years, ever since Hamas won the elections. And it takes its most brutal form in the ongoing siege of Gaza, which is also coming up on a decade now. The deprivation … The deliberate deprivation of Gaza of their electricity, all of this is part of a game being played to try to make life so intolerable for people in Gaza that they will finally say enough is enough and invite Abbas back in. And for Abbas, I think, he must know that … Or at least, I assume he must know that he’s not going to have any more success with Donald Trump than he did with Barack Obama.
But being received at the White House and being patted on the head by Trump is important public relations for him, and allows a leader who has really no base of legitimacy … Gives him a few more days or a few more months, or even a few more years to say, “Well I’m the Palestinian leader and I’m the partner that the world wants to deal with.”
Aaron Maté: So where is this headed then, if Abbas continues to refuse to hold elections, as he’s done since he lost the elections to Hamas back in 2006, as you mentioned? Where does this internal struggle go?
Ali Abunimah: Well, the other side of this, you mentioned Hamas’ new charter, and I wrote about that at The Electronic Intifada in some detail, but very briefly. You called it an effort to reposition Hamas as being more moderate. It is indeed the culmination of years of internal debates in Hamas, and it does contain some important developments. For one thing, it repudiates the [frankly 00:08:09] antisemitic language that was in the original Hamas charter that was written in 1988 by one person, and long, long ago ceased to be of any relevance. But nonetheless, it was important for Hamas to repudiate that anti-Jewish and antisemitci language, and to declare clearly in line with the long-standing consensus among Palestinians that the conflict with Zionism is a conflict against the colonial occupation and not against the Jews, as a religion. That was very important, I think, and should be welcomed.
The other thing that Hamas said is that resistance is a right and armed struggle is a right that all occupied peoples have, but that it’s up to Palestinian to decide how to manage their resistance and what methods to use at what time. And what they’re saying there is that we’re not wedded to armed struggle as the only mean of resistance. And if there’s a political horizon, we’re ready to take it. I think most contradictory or problematic part is Hamas signing up effectively to the two state solution, at the very moment where it has become completely irrelevant because of the reality on the ground, the reality of a single apartheid state. And I think the fact that Hamas took so many years to come around to an idea whose time has passed, really shows the paucity of vision that exists within the sort of official institutionalized Palestinian national movement, whether represented by Fatah or Hamas.
Aaron Maté: One initiative that’s gathering international support and attention is this Palestinian hunger strike going on right now. More than 1500 Palestinian prisoners taking part, drinking only saltwater, now in its third week. Can you talk about what’s happening there?
Ali Abunimah: Yeah, this is something that got a little bit of attention in the first couple of days, because Marwan Barghouti, a prominent member of Mahmud Abbas’s Fatah faction, who is imprisoned by Israel, is seen as the leader of this particular hunger strike, and had written about it in the New York Times. What Israelis have done to him and to dozens of other prisoners is set about really brutal reprisals, putting people in solitary confinement, reducing their already brutal prison conditions even further, in Israel’s determination to subject thousands of Palestinian political prisoners to really atrocious conditions in an effort to break any form of Palestinian resistance in solidarity. There are now more than 6,000 Palestinian political prisoners in Israel’s jails. The vast majority are there after being subjected to mock trials in Israeli military courts, these kangaroo courts. And hundreds of them haven’t even had trials. They’re held under what Israel calls administrative detention. A holdover from British colonial rule, where people can be held indefinitely without charge or trial.
So the hunger strike is an effort to win back the rights, the immediate demands have to do with the rights of prisoners in Israeli detention. But a bigger goal is certainly to bring international support and attention and solidarity to their struggle and the Palestinian struggle more broadly.
Aaron Maté: Ali Abunimah, co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine. Ali, thank you.
Ali Abunimah: Thank you, Aaron.
Aaron Maté: And thank you for joining us on The Real News.