According to most media accounts, President Donald Trump did it again when he met with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in Davos, Switzerland.
When Trump complained that the Palestinians had “disrespected us” when they refused to meet with Vice President Mike Pence during his visit to the Middle East this week, it was cast as just another example of how the president’s thin skin and easily bruised ego was damaging U.S. foreign policy. Just as the administration’s principled decision to finally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to begin the process of moving the U.S. embassy there was depicted as a payoff to donors or conservative Christian backers, the withholding of some aid to the Palestinians was put down as just another pointless Trump snit. The mainstream media talking heads and foreign policy establishment “wise men” shook their heads in dismay at Trump’s supposed foolishness in trying to hold the Palestinian Authority (PA) accountable for its support for terrorism as well as for its abandonment of the peace process.
The most interesting point about the reaction to Trump’s comments is that most of those speaking about it acted as if they were unaware or uninterested in PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ Jan. 14 speech in which he cursed Trump, vowed never to negotiate with the U.S. and engaged in a long, bizarre anti-Semitic rant that made it clear Israel’s supposed peace partner considered the Jewish state an illegitimate colonial entity planted in the Middle East by Europe.
That’s hardly surprising because Abbas’s speech got minimal coverage in the mainstream media. So, as has often been the case with the Middle East, those opining on the subject only concentrated on Trump’s alleged sins while never acknowledging that Abbas had trashed the president even though Trump had left the door open for a two-state solution in his Jerusalem statement. Had the Palestinians wanted to restart negotiations with the U.S., they could have done so and perhaps have reaped the benefits of his desire for the “ultimate deal.” The fact that they didn’t said very little about Trump and volumes about their inability to give up their century-old war on Zionism.
The problem this episode highlights isn’t just a Palestinian political culture that is rooted in irredentism rather than a desire to create an independent state. Rather, it is the terrible advice they are getting from Westerners who can’t stand Trump, Israel and Netanyahu.
Reactions to Trump’s latest Middle East comments from liberal Americans as well as Europeans illustrated a dangerous trend. Rather than focus on Abbas’s foolish decision to burn his bridges with the U.S. and his rejection of peace, those damning Trump’s comments about being “disrespected” were essentially telling the Palestinians to ignore the American demands.
As troubling as that might be, even more worrisome was the report that their former U.S. negotiator and ally was also telling them the same thing. As Ma’ariv reported Wednesday, former Secretary of State John Kerry met with Hussein Agha, a Palestinian official close to Abbas in London. At the meeting, Kerry told Agha to pass on to Abbas the message that he should “hold on and be strong” in his dealings with the U.S. Kerry advised Abbas, “He should stay strong in his spirit and play for time, that he will not break and will not yield to President Trump’s demands.”
Even if he disagrees with Trump, for a former secretary of state should openly seek to undermine U.S. foreign policy with a foreign leader in this manner is outrageous and a break from accepted behavior every bit as much as Trump’s tweets and often bizarre comments. But more than that, it is terrible advice. Instead of counseling Abbas and the Palestinians to avoid peace talks, Kerry ought to be urging them to negotiate with Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
But given the fact that he never held Abbas and the Palestinians accountable for terrorism or for repeatedly blowing up the negotiations he kept trying to sponsor while he was in power, why would we think he would do so now? Kerry believed the only path to peace involved brutal U.S. pressure on Israel to make dangerous territorial concessions for which he never seemed prepared to demand the Palestinians give up a culture of terror and hate that was the true engine of the conflict.
The report of the meeting—which was confirmed by the PA if not Kerry—also said that the former secretary of state predicted Trump might not last out his term in office. This is highly unlikely but even if true, do Kerry or the Palestinians think Pence would be less friendly to Israel than Trump or be more inclined to be give them a pass for paying salaries and pensions to those convicted of terrorist crimes? That Kerry also speculated about running again for president in 2020 is a sign that he is just as delusional about politics as he is about the Middle East.
It’s also ironic that liberals are mocking Trump’s talk of being insulted by Abbas when they were often so quick to back up President Barack Obama’s accusations that Netanyahu insulted him and Vice President Joe Biden. In point of fact, Abbas really did insult Trump personally as well as demonstrating his contempt for the history of the Jews. Obama’s insults—such as the one about the announcement of a housing project in Jerusalem during a Biden visit to Israel—were ginned up spats designed to create the “daylight” Obama wanted between the U.S. and the Jewish state.
The consequence of the messages being sent to the Palestinians by Kerry and other Trump critics is that they needn’t budge an inch from their rejectionism. Many world leaders have been telling them the same thing for decades. They continue to believe that all they have to do is “stay strong,” as Kerry put it, without recognizing that the long war against Israel is lost, and someday the world will hand them Israel on a silver platter.
It is the Palestinian people, who suffer under a cowardly dictator like Abbas and the terrorists of Hamas, who pay the price for this evil counsel. And they will continue paying for it until they realize they’d be better off listening to an alleged foe like Trump than to a friend like Kerry.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.