Shibley Telhami | Professor in the Department of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland, College Park, Director of the Critical Issues Poll, and non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.
The closing of the Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington has to be seen as part of a much larger shift in U.S. policy under President Donald Trump, that of employing the resources of a superpower on behalf of an extremist agenda that breaks with American and international norms.
It’s not that America was ever evenhanded on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. The Palestinian-American relationship was never fully independent and, from the outset, was a corollary of the relationship with Israel. In the Oslo Accords, it was the Israelis who brought Yasser Arafat to the White House and it was the Israelis who kept him out when his relations with Israel collapsed. But still, the United States had interests beyond Israel to defend, and American leaders to a varying degree were sometimes sensitive to the Palestinians’ plight.
For these reasons, Arabs always wanted an “active” American role as a way of influencing Israel. What’s extraordinary today is that the Arabs have gotten an active role, but also one they didn’t expect: the flexing of American muscle to unabashedly advance a pro-Israel extremist agenda. What we are witnessing is an attempt by a handful of Trump advisors, who have been give a free hand from the top, to clear the deck for Israel to clinch what they see as a historic victory in the conflict, in the name of “realism.” As stunning and brazen as this attempt is, it is equally stunning to see de facto acquiescence from rulers in the Arab world. In the end, the outcome will be lose-lose for all involved, as no one has a workable unilateral solution, despite the huge asymmetry of regional and global power.
Nathan Thrall | Director of the Project on the Arab-Israeli Conflict at the International Crisis Group, author of The Only Language They Understand: Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine
The U.S. closure of the PLO mission in Washington won’t affect the likelihood that President Donald Trump’s peace efforts will succeed: The PLO wouldn’t engage the administration in discussions of its peace plan before the office’s closure and it’s unlikely to change its mind now. But that doesn’t mean the closure won’t have an impact on Israelis and Palestinians. When combined with the U.S. move of its embassy to Jerusalem and the cuts in U.S. assistance to the Palestinian Authority, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, development projects, and hospitals in East Jerusalem, the closure of the PLO mission helps clarify to even the most compliant and pro-American PLO leaders that the United States is neither their ally nor a neutral broker of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement.
More important, these U.S. moves have the potential to create humanitarian, economic, and security problems in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza. If they do, much of the cost will be borne by Israel. There is, thus, a chance that Trump’s ultimate legacy in Israel-Palestine will be to have inadvertently increased the costs of occupation for the occupier. That would be a revolutionary change in American foreign policy, and one that may well have a greater chance of success than what we had before.
Ghanem Nuseibeh | Founder of Cornerstone Global Associates
The Palestine Liberation Organization is well past its sell-by date. The PLO had three concurrent roles: to represent Palestinians in the territories occupied by Israel in June 1967; to represent Palestinian refugees living outside of historical Palestine; and to forge peace with Israel and therefore, by implication, be a conduit for a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace. Those were the conditions of its international acceptance.
Today, the PLO has irreversibly failed in holding on to those three mandates it claimed to hold. It no longer can claim to be the sole representative of Palestinians, whether inside or outside historical Palestine. For Palestinians inside the occupied territories, that role is in the hands of the Palestinian Authority. The PLO has failed to achieve peace with Israel, despite the fact that Israeli governments from across the political spectrum have been in power. And the PLO has lost touch with the Palestinian refugee population. Closing the PLO office in Washington is part of the decoupling of the PLO from the Palestinians that has been taking place for years on the ground, and this can only be in the interest of peace. The Palestinians need to look at a post-PLO era.
Ian Black | Visiting senior fellow at the Middle East Center of the London School of Economics, former Middle East editor, diplomatic editor, and European editor of the Guardian, author, most recently, of Enemies and Neighbors: Arabs and Jews in Palestine and Israel, 1917–2017 (Penguin and Grove Atlantic)
It is true that U.S. hostility toward the Palestinian national movement and glaring bias toward Israel have been made grimly clear by President Donald Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and slash aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. Like those earlier moves, the punitive closure of the PLO office in Washington has both practical and symbolic value: a communication channel has been shut down, but more significantly the move has undermined the PLO’s standing 30 years after the launch of its dialogue with the United States. The decision kills off lingering hopes that this administration can be an honest broker, as does an approach to Gaza that looks likely to encourage Palestinian fragmentation and entrench Hamas. Under Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. and Israeli policies have become virtually indistinguishable. Still, another American nail in the coffin of a just and viable two-state solution does not mean that any other negotiated outcome is achievable. The Palestinians themselves cannot be taken “off the table.”
Ali Abunimah | Executive director of the Electronic Intifada, author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine
In and of itself, no. The purpose of the Palestine Liberation Organization office was to help lobby the U.S. Congress to continue U.S. aid on the grounds that the Palestinian Authority (PA) was dutifully collaborating with Israel. Now that the United States has cut off all except “security” aid to the PA, that is no longer necessary as the pro-Israel lobby will make sure that such aid continues to flow.
The closure should be seen in the context of President Donald Trump’s efforts to force a Palestinian surrender by cutting off virtually all U.S. funding. While this will inflict suffering on the most vulnerable Palestinians, it will not succeed in turning Palestinians into Zionists, as per the fantasies of the settlers and fanatics in charge of current U.S. policy. The urgent and long overdue lesson for the Palestinians and their allies is that waiting for rescue from Washington (or the European Union) is and always was futile. Only a strategy of building independent strength, through mass resistance and international boycotts, can succeed in isolating and defeating Israel’s apartheid regime.
Nathan Brown | Nonresident senior fellow in the Carnegie Middle East Program, professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University
The closure of the Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington, D.C. will have little practical impact. Palestine and the United States have little to say to each other right now that cannot be communicated through huffy public statements or (receding but still extant) mid-level contacts.
But something deeper is at work, even deeper than the successful jettisoning of decades of bipartisan policy. It is a new approach to Palestinians. No longer are they to be treated as a proto-state, a national entity, or (if they live outside of Palestine) as refugees. They are residents of a territory controlled by Israel whose fate, if negotiations are appropriate, are to be discussed among leaders of existing states.
This is not the stated position of the Trump administration, and there remain officials who would reject such an approach. But the trajectory is clear, and the main question is how much cumulative lasting impact the various moves by the Trump administration will have.