Yesterday, following Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ trip to the White House, J Street held a call for our leadership with award-winning Palestinian journalist and media freedom activist Daoud Kuttab. As a veteran analyst of Palestinian politics and society, Kuttab shared his insights on Abbas, perception of the Trump administration among Palestinians and the internal dynamics for Fatah and Hamas.
Below is a condensed transcript featuring some of the highlights of the conversation.
A: The Palestinian leadership and public were quite concerned about the dynamic in the US elections, where candidates seemed to be outdoing themselves to seem more right wing, and that after the appointment of David Friedman as US ambassador, that we were going to head back to square one. We still don’t know if it’s going to get better, but Trump’s outreach to, and welcoming of, Abbas has created a sense of relief.
Still, there’s a very low bar of expectations. People are really worried about being disappointed. Fifty years of occupation have created a thick skin for most people, and people won’t believe there is going to be peace until they see the provocative actions of the settlement movement curtailed. When it comes to the US, people are concerned that there is such huge blind bipartisanship behind Israel in the US, to the extent that it’s bad for Israel and for peace in the Middle East.
A: The meeting itself was a bit disappointing. There were a lot of generalities and flowery language from President Trump, and it’s worrisome when someone seems to think it’s easy to make peace in the Middle East. And it’s a little bit embarrassing how much flattery the Palestinians were directing towards Trump. I was also concerned by Sean Spicer’s White House press briefing focus on incitement to violence in the Palestinian media, which framed it as an exclusively Palestinian issue. I thought that was the White House repeating an Israeli talking point, not giving a fair and balanced treatment.
A: It seems to show that Hamas is finally beginning to accept what Fatah and the Palestinian leadership have accepted for 30 years – the need to share the land and the idea of a two-state solution, rather than talking about an imaginary and unreasonable one-state solution. It helps Abbas politically, though there is still a long way to reconciliation. It will make it easier for Hamas to be part of the PLO….and by officially joining the PLO, they would de facto recognize Israel, even if the charter does not do so officially. I’m optimistic because Hamas is slipping away from Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood. Strategically, that is very significant in the long run. But certainly, Hamas have not become doves.
A: It’s hard to separate issues in politics – and many actions have two purposes. Marwan Barghouti has received the most votes in the past in elections for the Palestinian Central Committee, so he’s already popular. His role as one of 1,500 striking prisoners may elevate his position. But a hunger strike also isn’t easy or simple to do simply for political gain. If he can generate some kind of results on various issues that Palestinian prisoners and their families care about, it’s true of course that he’ll gain popularity.