A better question is: How could this not happen? For the last 25 years, the peace process has been hurtling toward this very moment. Decades of playing the lopsided negotiations game has brought us face-to-face with the simple truth that the Palestinians pay a serious price for not negotiating—indeed, their lands are taken by Israeli settlements, some people are jailed and killed, and many are forced to eke out an existence on the margins of the Israeli economy—while the Israelis do not. Israel has had comparatively little motivation to negotiate when, with U.S. cover, it has been allowed to continue the status quo of occupying the West Bank and blockading the Gaza Strip.
Trump’s move places Palestinian leaders in a tight spot: Without any pretense of neutrality left in a U.S.-led peace process, the Palestinian leadership must finally concede that the charade is over and no outside help is coming—not from the Americans, not from the Europeans, not from anyone. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas can no longer use the peace process and foreign aid to pacify Palestinians in the face of the daily indignities experienced living under Israeli occupation. Palestinians are demanding a new plan that veers away from American dictates, including achieving a real reconciliation between the primary political parties Fatah and Hamas, which have been at odds for years. At the same time, Abbas cannot push back on the U.S. without jeopardizing the crucial financial support that it gives the PA, which employs one third of the West Bank and Gaza Strip’s Palestinian population.
Although Trump made sure to leave the door open to future peace talks, saying the move would not affect “any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem or the resolution of contested borders,” the announcement seemingly precludes a special administration for the city under UN auspices, which had been a part of previous negotiations.
Because of this lack of specificity, many ordinary Palestinians are sure to interpret the U.S. announcement as dismissing their historical, political, and cultural ties to Jerusalem, and as disputing their right to independence and self-determination. In their eyes, it condones Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967 and implies that the city is solely Israeli.
Palestinians, especially of the younger generation, have been questioning the feasibility of a two-state solution for some time. This is a generation that came of age during the second intifada and watched its land be swallowed up by settlements and the separation wall as the years slipped by. Young men and women witnessed their own policemen arrest fellow countrymen at the behest of their occupier, while leaders placated them with empty words and slogans. They’re done playing this game.
Now, they’re looking at other options. Many would want the PA to cease its security coordination with Israel as a first step, while others call for the PA to be dissolved altogether. Some have turned to the movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel (BDS) for guidance.