As Americans gather across the country in a mixture of celebration and protest following the inauguration of U.S. President Donald Trump, Palestinians in the occupied territory are expressing their own concerns of what a Trump presidency will mean for them.
As Trump made his inaugural speech in Washington, a handful of youth leaders gathered by the separation wall in the occupied West Bank district of Bethlehem lighting images of Trump on fire and posting up banners with messages such as “Move your embassy to your own country, not ours” and “Stop Trump … Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine.”
Naji Owdeh, director of Palestinian Youth Action Center for community Development (LAYLAC), was in attendance, and told Mondoweiss that while he does not think Trump will be good for Palestinian politics, he does not see a Trump administration as being drastically better or worse for Palestine than the Obama administration had been, or what the Hillary Clinton administration could have been.
“I think they are all very similar,” Owdeh said. “Trump’s stance will be in the same political direction, he can’t completely change everything the way he says he can, he says the things he says for the media. Yes, Trump will certainly support Israel, but Obama did too.”
One point Owdeh is concerned with is Trump’s promise to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Both Palestinians and Israelis strive to make Jerusalem their own capital, and because of the contentious nature of the city’s status, many states, as well as the United Nations, support Jerusalem having an international status and do not recognize the city as the capital of either communities.
In 1995, the Jerusalem Embassy Act was passed by the 104th U.S. Congress. The act stated that by 1998, the U.S. Embassy in Israel would be moved to Jerusalem and that the city should be declared the undivided capital of Israel, however U.S. Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama opposed the act as an infringement on the presidential office’s authority over foreign policy, consistently overriding the bill.
Owdeh said he feels confident that Trump will go through on his promise to transfer the embassy to Jerusalem, though he is not sure on the timeframe such a move would take place.
“I think he will succeed in moving the embassy, because really, who can say no to him when it comes to that — even the Palestinian Authority (PA) will eventually accept the move,” he said. “It’s so easy for the American president to move an embassy, the PA doesn’t need to agree with it, and in the end, the PA receive orders, they don’t react. Now the international community won’t support them, but they will say it is an American issue and escape from responsibility.”
“If he does move the embassy there will be outrage, but the action will come from the people, not governments, and not just in Palestine,” he added.
On Thursday, Trump reportedly reiterated his stance on the embassy move to the Israel Hayom Hebrew-language daily, telling a reporter that “You know that I am not a person who breaks promises.”
Mustafa Barghouti, a member of the Palestinian Parliament and Secretary General of the Palestinian National Initiative, agreed that in general, the United State’s stance on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict does not change much regardless of who is president, but he is concerned by some of Trump’s statements regarding the American embassy being moved to Jerusalem, as well as his appointment of David Friedman, an Orthodox Jewish bankruptcy lawyer who has voiced his support for the annexation and Israeli settlement of the West Bank.
“There have certainly been signals that have come from the Trump camp that are very alarming, including the threat to move the American embassy to Jerusalem and the talks that came out of his administration about Israel’s illegal settlements not being an obstacle to peace, as well as statements about annexing parts of the West Bank to Israel,” Barghouti said. “And there were certain statements made by Mr. Friedman that are alarming — his appointment itself is alarming.”
“What we hope is that the strong reactions of the international community concerning the embassy move will be enough to convince Mr. Trump not to commit such a major mistake,” he said.
When asked if he thought some of the statements made by Trump’s administration could cause a popular Palestinian uprising on the ground, Barghouti said there is already a threat of another Palestinian uprising without the contention brought to the table by Trump.
“Israel is fueling sparks for a new Intifada through its crimes everyday,” Barghouti said. “The main instigator in a new intifada would certainly be Israel and its behavior, but moving the embassy to Jerusalem will absolutely spark flames, not only here but worldwide. A move like this is not something small that would be forgotten in a week or so. It is a major political move and it would mean the U.S. is nullifying its position of being a partner in the Peace Process.”
George Abu Eid, 25 and a history and science teacher from the West Bank with a degree in political science, called Trump a “racist, bigot, xenophobic narcissist,” but told Mondoweiss that in a way, he is happy a person with Trump’s personality has taken control of the American presidency.
“For Palestinians, like myself, who have been following up and observing the U.S. elections, certainly we were not looking for any hope in our situation out of either outcome — both Hilary and Trump are actually not that different as far as a greater evil in regards to Palestine and the world goes,” he said. “However, from my humble perspective, I believe that Trump as a U.S. President is much better than Hillary, because, somehow Trump reflects the true colors of the American society: a white-supremacist racist society that has been living in denial and ignorance for so long.”
“To be honest, we Palestinians have plenty of experience dealing with a man like Trump over someone like Hillary,” he added. “Since we have been doing so with Mr. Netanyahu for the past decade. In other words, we now can look at reality and expect the worse, instead of deluding ourselves with hopes for a bright future.”
Laura Hamdan, a Palestinian-American student from St. Louis who just returned to the U.S. from winter break in the occupied West Bank, said that if Trump keeps his promises regarding the embassy — essentially recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel — it will signal a loss of hope.
“Recognizing Jerusalem as only the capital of Israel is sort of telling the Palestinian side that you really have no future in deciding your own autonomy,” she said.
While Hamdan is concerned about the implication of what a Trump presidency will mean for Palestine, she also has more immediate concerns about the safety of her Muslim family in America.
“It’s no surprise what Trump’s stance on Israel is, considering most presidents before him have the same point of view. So my family saw it coming,” Hamdan said. “But what my family is mainly concerned about is what might happen domestically. They all said Trump supporters are more dangerous than Trump himself. My mom wears the hijab (head scarf) and notices more people look at her critically now. My brother — who never concerns himself with politics really — told me ‘I’m afraid for mom, for you, for anybody that looks anyway foreign or different now.’”