Earlier this week, Palestinian protesters, who included senior officials of the ruling Fatah faction of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (right), burned photos of President Donald Trump and some of his senior representatives, including presidential advisors Jared Kushner (center) and Jason Greenblatt (left). The photo of the meeting above was taken June 21, 2017 in Ramallah. (Image source: Thaer Ghanaim/PPO via Getty Images)
Once again, the Palestinians are conveying conflicting messages about their attitude towards US President Donald Trump's administration. On one side, they are condemning the Trump administration for its decision to cut all US aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA); on the other, the Palestinians are opposed to any plan by the US administration to provide them with financial aid and improve their living conditions.
This Palestinian stance is not only bad-faith double-dealing, it also reflects the state of confusion and uncertainty among the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah in particular and the Palestinian public in general.
In reality, the Palestinians have one main message for the US administration: We hate you and incite against you, but we fully expect that you will continue providing us with cash, to the tune of billions of dollars. And, when you do try to help us, we reserve the right to spit in your face.
This is the message -- despite much duplicitous obfuscation -- that the Palestinians have long sought to communicate the US.
Now to the facts.
Earlier this week, Palestinians staged a protest in Ramallah against the Trump administration's decision to halt US aid to UNRWA. During the protest outside America House (the educational and cultural center belonging to the US Consulate General in the de facto capital of the Palestinians, Ramallah), the Palestinians burned photos of Trump and some of his senior representatives, including US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and presidential advisors Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt. The protesters chanted slogans condemning the Trump administration as being "fully complicit" with Israel in its "aggression and war" on the Palestinians.
In other words, the Palestinian protesters, who included senior officials of Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas's ruling Fatah faction, are demanding that the US continue to fund Palestinian "refugees" through UNRWA. The message the protesters sent to the Trump administration is: Look, we burn the photos of your president and top officials and we hate you, so kindly continue to give us hundreds of millions of dollars every year.
As recently noted in this space, in Arabic this is called wakaha (impudence or audacity). It takes a lot of wakaha to spit in someone's face and then reach your hand out to beg for money.
A day after that protest in Ramallah, Palestinian protesters in east Jerusalem tried to prevent a group of Palestinian businessmen from attending a meeting organized by the US Consulate General. Guess who led the protest against the meeting, which was obviously aimed at benefiting the Arab residents of Jerusalem? Activists belonging to Fatah, Abbas's faction: Shadi Mtour and Awad Salaymeh. The protesters gathered outside the Notre Dame Hotel, just across the street from the Old City's New Gate, and tried to prevent the businessmen from entering the premises.
Mtour claimed that the meeting organized by the US Consulate General was an attempt to "bypass the Palestinian leadership" in Ramallah. "This is unacceptable because we support the official Palestinian position to boycott the US administration," he said. He claimed that some of the businessmen turned away when they encountered the protesters. However, Mtour expressed deep disappointment that others chose to ignore the protest and proceeded to attend the meeting. "Shame on them and anyone who agrees to compromise on Jerusalem," he added.
Salaymeh, for his part, accused the Palestinian participants of promoting "normalization" with Israel and the US. The US and Israel, he said, are "two sides of the same coin."
Just in case no one noticed: both Mtour and Salaymeh belong to Fatah, the faction that dominates and controls the Palestinian Authority. The entire existence of Fatah relies heavily on financial aid from the US, EU and other Western donors.
So, while the protesters in Ramallah were demanding that the US rescind its decision to cut off its funding to UNRWA, Abbas's men in east Jerusalem were trying to block a US-sponsored meeting to discuss ways of helping the Palestinian economy.
This was not the first incident in which Palestinians rejected an attempt by the Americans to help them. Last July, Palestinians thwarted a planned visit to the city of Nablus in the West Bank by a US consular delegation. The planned engagement was part of an ongoing US commitment to improve cooperation and expand economic opportunities for Palestinians. The visit was cancelled out of concern for the safety of the US delegates, after Palestinian protesters threatened to foil the meeting and called for boycotting the visiting delegation.
To add to the confusion regarding the Palestinian position towards the US, it was revealed this week that a senior Palestinian security and intelligence delegation had recently visited Washington for talks with CIA officials.
Abbas and the Palestinian leadership have not denied the report concerning the visit. But wait, haven't Abbas and his officials been boycotting the Trump administration since the US president's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital in December 2017?
Obviously, Abbas and the Palestinian leadership have no reasoned strategy regarding the US administration. Their conflicting message and actions are yet another sign of the absence of any real Palestinian vision. What is clear, however, is that the Palestinians' anti-US rhetoric will make it harder for them in the future to be considered by the Americans as reliable and trustworthy partners for any peace process with Israel.
Abbas and his top officials in Ramallah evidently want to have it both ways -- to continue their incitement against the Trump administration while being bankrolled by US taxpayer money. This incitement, meanwhile, is whipping up anti-US sentiment among Palestinians and many other Arabs, who now refer to the US as the #1 enemy of Arabs and Muslims. From here, the path to violence and terrorism against US citizens in the Middle East is very short.
Burning photos of Trump and senior US administration officials on the streets of Palestinian cities should be considered not only offensive, but effectively an act of war against Americans. Abbas and company would do well to learn that when they spit in the well they drink from, the water they draw will be bitter indeed.
Bassam Tawil is a Muslim Arab based in the Middle East.