Dispatch from Gaza: Trump’s trip will bring ‘less than zero’ to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations

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As Donald Trump wrapped his visit to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory yesterday, Gazans said they felt ignored. They do not expect the president’s travels will improve or lift the decade-long Israeli siege imposed on the coastal Mediterranean strip. Many noted Trump’s pro-Israel rhetoric during the later part of his campaign and first months of the presidency as a signal that their well-being is not on his agenda.

Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama were brought up in contrast, as presidents who engaged in a diplomatic approach to ending the conflict. Despite each of their failings, each was regarded as, at least, invested in the peace process.

Some cynically referred to the president as on an “elegant businessman’s” trip to Saudi Arabia, followed by less important stops to Israel and the West Bank.

Before landing in Tel Aviv, Trump finalized a $110 billion arms deal with the Kingdom which was followed by the announcement of $55 billion in contracts with U.S. companies, and a $100 million pledge from Saudi Arabia and the UAE to a charity headed by first daughter and White House aide Ivanka Trump.

Ghada al-Houdari. (Photo: Mohammed Asad)

Ghada al-Houdari, 29, a former teacher, said in comparison to those numbers, the Palestinians have nothing to offer an eager trade-minded Trump. “He should have stayed longer in Saudi Arabia. They have deals and money, but we have only cucumbers, eggplants and anchovies in this poor sea.”

“Clinton, Bush, and Obama were professional policy-makers, and they were creative in offering diplomatic remedies to the Palestinians, but Trump only understands the language of the U.S. dollar. So he will not benefit us, nor will the businessman benefit from us,” al-Houdari said.

Ghada’s brother Mahmoud al-Houdari, 32, said that the situations in Gaza will never change, so long as the Strip remains militarized Israel will continue to see itself at war with the besieged coastal enclave.

“Israel will not give up and Hamas will not give up its weapons for peace, so the dilemma is above Trump’s head,” Mahmoud said, “Here we do not fight over a field of oil or a coal mine,” he said indicating the roots of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict run deeper than issues like resource control, “but the right to exist.”

Bilal Absi. (Photo: Mohammed Asad)

Bilal Absi,  27, a governmental employee, said he preferred if Trump removed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from his to-do list. “We, the Palestinians, know all too well how to deal with the Israelis and we do not need a biased president who says that Israel is the only democratic state in the Middle East,Absi said.

“Why should we give him a chance? Israelis deal with us like animals and our lives are worthless in their point of view,” he added, “We don’t have too much more we can lose.”

We had lost a lot over the decades,” Absi continued, “the world might change someday and we will defeat them [the Israelis], so my family and I can return to Haifa.”

Trump’s visit to the Western Wall airs on a television in a popular cafe in the Gaza Strip. (Photo: Mohammed Asad)

At a Gaza popular seafront coffee shop, Mutasem Zaqout, 32, drank a chilled strawberry juice. He noted that Palestinians in Gaza are more focused on meeting their immediate needs, a looming humanitarian crisis that Trump has yet to address. Zaqout noted Palestinians have basic aspirations, like drinking a bottle of clean water from cooled in a refrigerator in their homes—something that is impossible under the current 20-hour a day electricity cuts.

“If you can not provide simple stupid cold water, how can you make a political solution between two peoples who have hated each other for 69 years”? he said.

“Trump had a grilled lamb in Saudi Arabia and he will eat falafel in Bethlehem—and maybe he convinced his daughter Ivanka that falafel is an Israeli dish—he will not do any else,” Zaqout scoffed.

Zaqout said opening Gaza’s crossings into Egypt and Israel—effectively easing the siege —and ending the electricity crisis are in Israel’s favor. Relieving some of the day-to-day difficulties could quiet the anger Gaza’ s residents hold towards Israel and could lead to greater stability.

Israel began its siege over Gaza in 2007 after Hamas took control of the Strip. Conditions dramatically worsened last month when an electricity crisis began.

Before Trump’s interventions, the last push for a peace deal was led by then Secretary of State John Kerry who attempted to make an agreement starting in 2013. Talks collapsed in the spring of 2014 after Israel refused to release a group of Palestinian prisoners. Within months Israel and Hamas were at war, and the prospects of negotiations seemed unlikely.

Many Gazans said those odds have not improved.

Fayez al-Sheikh Yousef. (Photo: Mohammed Asad)

Fayez al-Sheikh Yousef, 23, said Trump’s visit to the region will achieve “less than zero” when it comes to making the “historic deal” between Israel and the Palestinians. But al-Sheikh Yousef does not blame the president. Instead, he pointed to Congress as a source of heavy bias against the Palestinians in American politics.

“The problem is not about Trump, as a person. He is a postman with a message dispatched from the U.S. Senate,” he said. 

With little hope that the U.S. will become an impartial broker, al-Sheikh Yousef said the Palestinian leadership should give up negotiations altogether.

“We have nothing but missiles that only annoy Israel to use. Maybe we can regain some dignity by firing them at Israel,” al-Sheikh Yousef said.

Muhannad Seyam. (Photo: Mohammed Asad)

Yet Muhannad Seyam, 21, a college student studying business administration, was optimistic about Trump. Seyam is hopeful that Trump will bring the Palestinians and Israelis closer. “These two nations have demands they want to achieve. They pressure each other,” he said, “We want a real state on the ground with borders, the elimination of the Jewish settlements, and an end to Gaza’s siege. [If these preconditions are met] then peace will come easily.”

Trump, Seyam said, is the world’s most powerful president and therefore his is in a rare position that yields enough influence and pressure to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, forever.

“All the wars in the world are based on the conflict in this land,” Seyam said.

Hassan Abu Daqqa. (Photo: Mohammed Asad)

Hassan Abu Daqqa, 59, aMukhtar,” a community leader who mediates family conflicts said that Trump’s trip could show signs success in the future, but is cautious about getting his hopes up.The conflict in Palestine is different from any other country around the world.”

“We want a state on the 1967 borders and the release of the prisoners,” Abu Daqqa added.

While Trump has not backed those terms, which are common calls in Gaza, he did announce at the White House earlier this month while speaking alongside Mahmoud Abbas that he intends to forge a “peace agreement”—although stopped short of calling for the creation of a Palestinian state—or releasing prisoners.

Whatever the terms Trump will present to the Israeli and Palestinian leadership, it is clear that he has an interest in putting forth some sort of deal that is likely different from previous discussions.

“This makes me a bit optimistic,” Abu Daqqa said, “but his racism towards Muslim countries, he said referencing Trump’s Muslim travel ban, “reveals [to me] his intention is to [keep the status quo and] hand over this same situation to the next U.S. president, number 46.”

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Trump should talk to Finkelstein, and Atzmon, for a change. Or even Phil Weiss or Code Pink, or Chas Freeman, or Mr Falk. No chance.

Thanks for sharing. Trump is not exactly impartial or helpful in this unfair war against the defenseless Palestinians.

… Many noted Trump’s pro-Israel rhetoric during the later part of his campaign and first months of the presidency as a signal that their well-being is not on his agenda. Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama were brought up in contrast, as presidents who engaged in a diplomatic… Read more »

These Trump visits to the Mideast would have been a good time to unveil any meaningful peace proposals he has. I don’t believe he has any to propose or if he does, it’s been blocked by the Israel Lobby. Even if he did put forth one, the details would likely… Read more »

Why should Israelis have to pay for water for people trying to kill them?