Sensing Trump Will Give Free Pass to Israel, Palestinians Announce Plans for Unity Government

If the Trump administration is serious about peace, they will quickly realize that moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem will make it impossible, says journalist Daoud Kuttab

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Story Transcript

SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

Hamas and Fatah dominated headlines yesterday, announcing that they have started negotiations to form a unity government in the occupied Palestinian territories. The agreement was reached late on Tuesday after a three day meeting in the Russian capital of Moscow. The Palestinian representatives also apparently met on Monday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and asked him to dissuade the President-elect Donald Trump from moving the U.S. embassy in Israel, to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.

Joining us today to discuss this potential unity government, and its significance, is Daoud Kuttab. Daoud is an award winning Palestinian journalist, and Director General of Community Media Network. He’s currently joining us from Amman, Jordan. Thanks for joining us, Daoud.

DAOUD KUTTAB: Thank you.

SHARMINI PERIES: So, Daoud, this unity agreement, if implemented, and followed through, is very successful, it would be the first of its kind. What do you make of it, and what’s in the agreement?

DAOUD KUTTAB: Well, this agreement was part of a plan that included creating a unity government, followed by a meeting of the PLO’s Palestine National Council, followed by presidential and parliamentary elections. So, this is a part of a jigsaw puzzle, and it comes at the right time, and it comes from our good friends in Russia.

SHARMINI PERIES: Was that a surprise that Russians were involved in negotiating between Hamas and Fatah, or was it expected? Were there murmurs before this?

DAOUD KUTTAB: I think the Russians negotiated much. I think the optics are that many feel that the U.S., under Trump, is going to be not so involved in the Middle East. And so, Russia is the big kid in the region after what happened in Syria. And so, I think both sides wanted to be in Moscow to strengthen Russia’s hand, especially on the issue of the movement of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, because the Russians seem to have good relations with the new administration.

SHARMINI PERIES: Right. So, now, in terms of geopolitics, we are setting up this situation where the U.S.-Israel alliance is being formed and strengthened by the Trump presidency coming up this week. And the Palestinian relationship is strengthened with the U.S., introducing an interesting geopolitical dynamic here. How do you think this will transpire?

DAOUD KUTTAB: Well, I think that everybody looks out for their own interests, and the Palestinian interest seems to be more with the Russians these days, in at least avoiding things getting worse in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

The ambassador appointed by Trump is extremely right-wing supporting of the Jewish settlers, and there’s a lot of worry that things are going to get much worse in the relationship. That the Israelis will feel that they have a free hand to do what they want in the occupied territories. So, Palestinians are trying to find a strong ally to help weaken, or lessen, the onslaught that’s going to happen on them.

SHARMINI PERIES: Right. And I’m sure there are various opinions out there, but in general, what do the Palestinians, as a whole, think of the possibility of a unity government?

DAOUD KUTTAB: Well, I think it’s welcomed by everyone. We badly need the end of the split that happened in 2007. We’re trying to get Palestinians to be united, because we realize that things are going to get worse. And we need to be united in order to stand up to the difficulties that will happen in the next year.

As we see, the Israelis are feeling very strengthened by the election of Trump, and by some of the appointments in his administration. So, everyone is understanding that this is now no time to be divided.

SHARMINI PERIES: Right. And, Daoud, last time we talked, it was right after the big meeting that was held, and the prospect of a unity government was in the air. What happened between that meeting, and this meeting, taking place in Russia?

DAOUD KUTTAB: Well, about a week ago, there was a preparatory meeting in Beirut for the upcoming Palestinian National Council. This is the most important body in the Palestinian politics. It’s like the Parliament in exile. They had a good meeting and everything seems to be going well. The Hamas and Islamic Jihad, for the first time, attended a PLO meeting, so if that… the improvement in that level, I think, is what brought about the meeting, the success in Moscow, more than anything else.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right, moving forward. As of Friday, the situation in the United States is going to be dramatically different. And Trump has already appointed… well, actually, presented his nominee for Israel ambassador from the United States. And it’s most likely that’s going to be going through, and that is his former bankruptcy lawyer, that is now the Ambassador to Israel.

What do Palestinians think of this appointment, and then, of course, the possibility of moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem? This is a congressional law that has been on the books for a while now. So, any of the previous presidents could have made this move, or at least asked the State Department to make this move. But they have chosen not to because of the potential conflicts this would flare.

Do you think that the Trump administration will back down, or do you think they’re going to proceed with this move?

DAOUD KUTTAB: Well, I think a lot depends on what the Trump administration wants. If they are serious about trying to broker a peace agreement, as President-elect Trump has said — that his son-in-law is going to be leading some kind of an effort to bring about peace that nobody else has been able to succeed in it — I think they will realize quickly that any move, such as moving the embassy, is going to scuttle their efforts, and it would make it totally impossible to move the process.

I think if they are wise, they will hold off on any kind of action that pre-empts the resolution, because both sides are asked not to do anything to hurt the final resolution. Certainly, the Americans should not be involved in acting against the international consensus that was reflected in the last UN Security Council Resolution, which said that all the areas occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem, are occupied territories.

So, when you move your embassy to a city that is part of the city’s occupied territories, you’re actually making a decision, a pre-emptive decision, that is going to make a very difficult process even more difficult.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Now, the politics in the United States has a huge bearing in what happens between Israel and Palestine. In the years before the Obama administration there was a real alliance between Fatah, and, say, the Bush administration. Do you think there’s that kind of alliance, or the possibility of that kind of an alliance, with the Trump administration?

DAOUD KUTTAB: Well, I think it’s too early to say. I think we have… there is a Secretary of State nominee that, I think, understands the Middle East. He knows the Arab world, and he knows the sensitivity of the Palestinian conflict in the Arab region and in the wider Arab, Islamic and even most of the world.

So, I think if they take things slowly, and they try to understand, first of all, before just shooting from the hip, they will understand that what everybody else has had a hard time resolving is also going to be difficult for them. And certainly they should be careful of what they say, and what they do, in order to preserve a peace. Not only in Palestine, because what happens in Palestine affects the entire region and it poisons the air.

And I think if they are trying to resolve issues, including ending the ISIS group, they cannot do that only on a military level. They also need to understand that they have to win the hearts and minds of people. And if injustice continues in the Palestinian area, if occupation continues, that will continue to create anger and poison the air. And that’s not good for the fight against the radical groups.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Daoud, I thank you so much for joining us. This is certainly worth keeping an eye on, and I hope that you join us again for your good analysis on the situation.

DAOUD KUTTAB: Thank you for inviting me.

SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

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