By Ray Hanania
For most Arabs, former President Donald Trump will be remembered for ordering a ban on many Muslims entering the US and for undermining the peace process for Palestine. The reality is that Trump could not achieve peace between Israel and Palestine because the Palestinians never really tried to negotiate or offer ideas.
The Palestinians believed Trump was biased and too close to former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Yet, in an interview this week, Trump revealed that he disliked Netanyahu and stated that the Israeli PM “never wanted peace” with the Palestinians.
So, what really happened? Although Netanyahu embraced Trump’s peace plan, the Palestinians immediately rejected it and refused to offer a counterproposal or discuss changes.
Netanyahu may not have wanted to make peace, but he did not let his attitude show, at least not until the Palestinians pulled the rug out from Trump’s efforts and the deal was declared dead on arrival.
What it all showed was that Netanyahu — and the Israelis generally — understand diplomacy and politics better than the Palestinians. Unfortunately, the Palestinians and their activist voices have no idea how to effectively engage in diplomatic wrangling or to manipulate politics through the management of public opinion. They only know how to react to opinion, not control it.
Palestinians always start their “negotiations” from the point of suffering and conflict, making their situation worse. They rejected Trump’s deficient plan outright and upped the ante by increasing their negative rhetoric, believing it would enhance public support. It didn’t. No one likes a complainer, especially one that refuses to engage.
Although Trump did seek to prohibit immigrants and visitors from six predominantly Muslim nations from entering the US, these countries represented only a small part of the Muslim world, which consists of some 50 nations. But calling it a “Muslim ban” made it easier for foes of the Trump peace plan to get angrier and stiffen their opposition. It also deflected any blame from the Palestinian leadership and activists. The exaggerated “ban” on Muslims was an excuse to reject everything Trump did.
That is not to say that Trump was the great negotiator he claimed he was or that he was a great president. He was simply left with no options but to fall into Netanyahu’s arms.
He moved the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, an action of great significance, but in reality it has not affected the genuine drive to achieve peace.
Even with the US Embassy in Jerusalem, there was still an opportunity to achieve peace. Rather than make the embassy move a dealbreaker for peace, the Palestinians could have recognized it as being only the beginning of a process. They could have pushed for a better deal.
Instead, Palestinians did what they always do: React to Israeli provocations and make Israel look good. While Netanyahu kept his views about not wanting to make peace to himself, the Palestinians made rejection of the plan their “Masada.”
The word “no” is not a strategy. It is a symbol of weakness, not a substitute for effective or strategic leadership.
Trump gave Palestinians an opportunity to engage, but they refused, leaving him to embrace Israel’s interests and demands. Yet, now that Trump is no longer in the White House, Palestinians don’t want to ask themselves, “What changed?” They don’t ask that question because, in reality, nothing has changed.
President Joe Biden has offered mild support to the Palestinians; enough to upset some Israelis but not enough to make a difference. Unlike the Palestinians, the Israelis will not walk away and leave the president with the Palestinians. They are doing what the Palestinians failed to do with Trump: Pushing back, organizing public relations campaigns and pushing for the adoption of pro-Israel legislation in the US Congress.
Palestinians need to be smarter. They need to change their strategies and silence fanatics who beat the drums of anger, hate and emotion as tools to empower themselves.
The Palestinians can win by trumping Israel — making themselves more vocal about peace and nonviolence than the Israelis.
They certainly need a better communications strategy to win over the public. Palestinians do a horrible job of public relations — actually, they have no public relations. In effect, they make no real effort to win the hearts and minds of the American people, who could be instrumental in countering Israel’s massive propaganda campaign.
Instead, Palestinians leave the field open, allowing Israel to control everything: The narrative, the message, defining history, and determining what is and is not true.
The Arab world’s support for Palestine has changed symbolically, but not intrinsically. Recognition of Israel by the UAE only creates an environment to litigate for peace. Ony last week, the UAE and Saudi Arabia said that Israel must recognize the rights of the Palestinians and allow a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem.
And Saudi Arabia’s UN envoy this week said during an interview on Arab News’ “Frankly Speaking” that the Kingdom continues to advocate for the implementation of its 2002 Israeli-Palestinian peace proposal as a condition for normalized relations.
The only way peace works is if Palestinians stop saying “no” and start engaging diplomatically and strategically.