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Extend the Grace Period, Or Flunk Him Out?
Wednesday, March 15, 2017
H alfway through the first 100 days of Donald Trump’s presidency, Palestinian leaders are feeling just as alarmed, worried, and confused as on Election Day. Trump’s warm embrace of Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his repeated statements in support of Israel have led many Arabs to despair.
That forlornness has been reflected in the Palestinian media, where Trump has been compared to a Nazi, according to a Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) report released in February. In one article, a columnist for the Palestinian Authority daily Al-Ayyam writes:
“If the Americans do not manage to drive Donald Trump out of the White House, he will drive democracy out of their land. ‘Germany above all’ was the slogan of the Nazi [Hitler]. Anyone who followed Trump’s election campaign and listened to his first speech as president needs only to replace the word ‘Germany’ in this slogan with the word ‘America’ in order to understand the meaning of the Trump phenomenon in the US. The Nazi [Hitler] rose to power through democratic elections, and so did Trump...”
Publicly however, the Palestinian Authority, led by President Mahmoud Abbas, is taking a wait-and-see approach. Mohammad Darawshe, a well-known Arab Israeli activist who is currently the director of the Planning, Equality & Shared Society at the NGO Givat Haviva Center, said most Palestinians are puzzled by Trump, unsure of how he will relate to the region. Statements made during the campaign do not necessarily become policy, he said.
“I hope that very quickly he will realize that the only real role for America to play here is a fair one that serves the interests of both the Palestinians and the Israelis and not one group over the other,” he said.
Asked about the relatively calm PA reaction to Trump, Darawshe responded that the Palestinian leadership is waiting to judge the administration’s actions and not its words. “They are going through quiet diplomatic channels. This is wise.”
Ahmad Asmar, a former journalist who is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Middle East history at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, argued that former president Barack Obama did not help the Palestinians and Trump won’t either. “When Trump said that he could solve the conflict, it showed that he does not understand the region,” he said. He added, however, that Palestinians hold out hope that Trump could bring change.
Other Palestinian opinion makers take a more nuanced view.
Jalal Ayoub, a popular Israeli Arab radio host on the Arabic radio station A-Shams, told Mishpacha that he believes Trump is a “good alternative” to Obama who “can think outside of the box” and “do things differently.” He noted that on his radio show he often attacks Arab Knesset members for their vocal anti-Trump positions.
“I see him as a stable guy — different than the portrayal by the mainstream media,” he said.
“This region has already suffered a lot from the Obama administration, which created the Islamic State and all of the mess in the Middle East. So give Trump a grace period instead of attacking him. Maybe it’s time to listen to this guy and let him reach a deal.”
Regarding Trump’s statement that he is open to solutions beyond the two-state paradigm, the radio show host said he doesn’t feel threatened. “It doesn’t have to be two states,” he said, “there are many options.”
Surprisingly, Ayoub also said he doesn’t view Trump as being anti-Muslim, despite the American media meme that he is an Islamophobe. “The mainstream media is trying to show Trump as anti-Muslim, but he is right about the enemy being the jihadist radicals.”
But a harder line view generally prevails. A former Palestinian journalist, who did not want to be named, told Mishpacha that average Palestinians believe Trump will be no different from previous US administrations. They are also concerned that future travel bans may affect them. “[Trump] will allow Israel to continue building settlements and continue to occupy the Palestinian territories,” the journalist said, “and their hope for an independent state is as remote as ever.” (Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 652)
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