JERUSALEM — The feeling on the Palestinian street is that President Barack Obama did too little to advance Palestinian statehood, deter Israeli settlement-building and protect the region’s endangered minorities, and Palestinians — including Christians — aren’t optimistic President-elect Donald Trump will be any better.
Given some of the early statements by Trump and his surrogates, some Palestinians fear he could be worse than Obama in terms of policy.
In a Nov. 10 interview on Israel Army Radio, Jason Greenblatt, a close legal adviser, said, “Mr. Trump does not view the settlements as being an obstacle for peace.”
Such a position contradicts U.S. foreign policy dating back to 1967, when Israel captured East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights.
Early in his campaign, Trump said he would not take sides in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but has since sounded decidedly more pro-Israel.
During a March address to the pro-Israel American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Trump criticized the values of Palestinian society, where “heroes are those who murder Jews. We can’t let this continue.”
Trump also promised to veto any attempt by the United Nations to force Israel into making concessions.
“It’s not up to the United Nations to really go with a solution. It’s really the parties that must negotiate a resolution themselves,” Trump said. And while the U.S. government “can be useful as a facilitator of negotiations … no one should be telling Israel that it must be and really that it must abide by some agreement made by others thousands of miles away that don’t even really know what’s happening to Israel, to anything in the area.”
Still, Trump’s team appeared to backtrack last week, saying that he might not immediately move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, a move approved by Congress but which Obama has resisted due to concerns it would be construed as recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem.
The U.S. has never recognized Israel’s sovereignty over any part of Jerusalem, and the Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of their future state.
Activist: U.S. Contributed to Radical Islam
Wadie Abunassar, a Catholic activist in the Holy Land who advises Church institutions, told the Register that from the perspective of Christians and other Arabs, the Obama presidency has been a big disappointment.
“There is the belief among Palestinians and Arabs, Christians and non-Christians, that the U.S. has contributed to the growth of radical Islam in the region,” Abunassar said. “Some say it was practically sleeping while extremism grew. Others think it actively turned a blind eye.”
Abunassar said the Obama administration’s relatively hands-off policy in the Middle East is “tacitly and actively” contributing to destabilization. “It’s very bad for minorities, Christians among them.”
Regarding the Palestinians, Abunassar said, “U.S. policy has been biased toward Israel. It hasn’t done much to end Israeli settlement activity in the occupied territories” and has “done little” to press Israel to release Palestinians held in Israeli prisons. Israel has said it will not release more prisoners while Palestinians continue to kill Israelis.
Middle-East Christians also believe the U.S. “has done very little, if anything, to help refugees, including Christians, fleeing the Middle East and done very little to help them remain where they are,” Abunassar said.
Although Holy Land Christians believe that most Americans are “ignorant” of their government’s foreign policies, Abunassar said, “There is much appreciation for the work some Catholic churches and NGOs are trying to do in the Middle East.”
Arab American Institute
James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, said there is a “sense of dread” in Palestinian society because “those who thought it couldn’t get worse feel it may get worse.”
Zogby said Palestinians fear the Trump administration will fail to “rebuke” Israel for building additional settlement homes or confiscating land.
That, Zogby said, will only serve to embolden Israel.
Zogby said Palestinian Christians are a minority within an overwhelmingly Muslim society, and this status “puts them in a precarious position on all fronts.”
As with Muslim Palestinians, Israel usually refuses to issue residency permits to Palestinian Christians from the West Bank who marry Israeli Christians, Zogby said. This, coupled with limited economic opportunities and intermittent violence, has led to the widespread migration of Christians.
“Christians didn’t fare well under Clinton or Bush or Obama, and they have low expectations of the next administration. Trump is unpredictable. He is decidedly hardline, and there has been nothing to reassure Palestinians in his speeches,” Zogby said
Ray Hanania, a Christian Arab columnist for Arab News, disagrees.
Hanania, a Trump supporter who was born in the U.S. to Palestinian parents, said he knows many Arab Americans who feel Trump “would be more protective of them by cracking down on Islamic extremism, not just in the Islamic world, but also in the United States.”
Voting for Trump, Hanania said, “isn't about certainty, but about the opportunity for change. To us, change means changing the past policies, and we are more hopeful that Trump will change that.”
Michele Chabin is the Register’s Middle East correspondent.