“The New Balfour Declaration:” Trump’‎s Speech as Reflected in Palestinian Discourse

Michael Barak analyzes the attempts by leaders of Palestinian discourse, particularly the Fatah and Hamas movements, to inflame passions and provoke mass protests in response to U.S President Donald Trump's December speech, which recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

This image is frequently circulated by Palestinian Twitter users, and depicts U.S President Donald Trump being spanked by a woman dressed in the Palestinian flag. From Twitter .
This image is frequently circulated by Palestinian Twitter users, and depicts U.S President Donald Trump being spanked by a woman dressed in the Palestinian flag. From Twitter.

The issue of Jerusalem frequently engages leaders of Palestinian discourse, secular and religious, especially those from the Fatah and Hamas movements, who seek to keep the issue on the agenda, and to fix Jerusalem in the world’‎s consciousness as the Palestinian capital that is inseparable from the Muslim nation. The recent declaration by US President Donald Trump,  which officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, was an opportunity for these leaders to generate online discourse on the subject, and to encourage popular protest, although the latter remained quite limited. The Palestinian movements also took advantage of the moment in order to attempt to raise political capital and improve their own standing. The Palestinian public, on the other hand, expressed dissatisfaction with the Arab world generally and the Palestinian leadership specifically, because of the political rifts and absence of willingness to work towards unity and reconciliation. This has, in turn, ostensibly enabled the United States and Israel to establish a new reality.

The discourse led by Hamas supporters on social networking sites (SNS) emphasized the narrative that the conflict is not merely a national conflict but also a religious one, because Jerusalem is considered one of the three holiest sites of Islam. Hence, according to them every Muslim must oppose the supposed American-Zionist plot to Judaize it. The movement tried to market propaganda messages by reusing old hashtags, such as “#Al-Aqsa Intifada,”[1] and introduced new ones in response to the American recognition of Jerusalem and the 30th anniversary of Hamas’‎ founding.[2] Moreover, the movement harnessed SNS to recruit activists and to encourage them to launch popular protests against Israeli security forces. For example, Hamas called on Palestinian women to go to the al-Aqsa Mosque plaza on Fridays to demonstrate their presence in the compound, distribute food to the demonstrators, and morally support the Muslim men who were called upon to escalate the protest.[3]

Fatah supporters also expressed their antipathy towards the Trump declaration and stressed that “Jerusalem is not for sale.” As an act of protest, users replaced their profile pictures on SNS with the Palestinian flag, with the caption “Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine.” Ashraf Jum’a‎, a member of the Palestinian parliament in the West Bank, used his Facebook account to call for taking active steps against the declaration, such as boycotting Israeli and American products, and increasing protests against Jerusalem on SNS and in the field.[4]

In the discourse that developed on SNS, Palestinian users described the American declaration as the “New Balfour Declaration,”[5] and some thanked Trump for his success in uniting all Muslims around the subject, using the hashtag “#Jerusalem unites us” [‏القدس_توحدنا).[6) Nonetheless, these reactions were accompanied by the Palestinians’‎ great disappointment with the deep rift revealed in the Arab world in general and in Palestinian society in particular, which created fertile ground for the United States and Israel to lead the process of recognition. A user from Hebron remarked sarcastically that the lone official response by the Arab rulers to the burning problems of the Arab world came in the form of a dance, referring to the reception that Trump received from his Saudi hosts last May, when he joined in a traditional sword dance.[7] A user from Gaza expressed a similar feeling when he said, “The Palestinians are busy with salaries, jobs and reconciliation. The Arabs are occupied with dancers, drums and banquets, while the United States and Israel are plotting to Judaize the Palestinian identity of Jerusalem.”[8] Palestinian users from Ramallah, as well as those from Arab countries, criticized the officials and countries in the Arab world who seek to promote normalization with Israel, such as Saudi Arabia.[9] From their perspective, the recent development regarding Jerusalem, and the strengthening of Israel’‎s status, stem not from the Zionists’‎ acumen but rather from the folly of the Arabs, who are engaged in internecine strife and are distancing themselves from the nations of the world.[10] Palestinian users from the West Bank and Syria, who identify with Fatah, blamed the leadership of Hamas, particularly Ismail Haniyeh, head of the Hamas political bureau, for abandoning – to their mind – the path of struggle against Israel. Instead, they preferred boasts over deeds, and enriching the movement’s assets thanks to, among other things, Saudi and Qatari funding.[11] These responses are indicative of the prevailing rift, alienation and distrust felt on the Palestinian street towards the Arab leadership in general, and the Palestinian leadership, in particular. They also helped to explain the lack of motivation many Palestinians showed in their responses to calls from Hamas and Fatah to take to the streets.

On SNS these sentiments were expressed by political cartoons that mocked the weakness of Arab leaders in response to the declaration.[12] Thus, for example, in one caricature, Trump is shown as a bully dragging the Arab world behind him. The Arabs are portrayed as defeatist and submissive, perched on pointed milestones, beginning with the Balfour Declaration and ending with the Trump Declaration, and call after the President, “this [declaration] harms the peace process,” while at the same time treading on the decomposing corpse of the peace process.

The vote of the United Nations General Assembly on December 21 against the American declaration was favorably received by Palestinian users, and the discourse surrounding the vote was somewhat euphoric. Some described the vote as a disgraceful failure for the United States and Israel.[13] Users reacted contemptuously to Trump’‎s threat to freeze aid intended for countries that voted against the US, and asked him to make good on his threat, because it would reduce US influence on other countries.[14] Users noted that the resistance proves that the era of American hegemony in the world has ended, and called on the Arab countries to learn from Venezuela’‎s opposition to the declaration.[15]

The discourse that developed among Palestinians on SNS following the Trump Declaration is characterized by deep distaste for the United States and Israel, who seem to have successfully unified the Palestinian public around Jerusalem, despite its great diversity. However, it also reflects a sense of distress and weakness among many Palestinian users who regard the American declaration as a warning sign and an indication of things to come, as well as a symptom of what ails the Arab world, which is so immersed in internal struggles and strife that narrow interests prevent it from acting on behalf of Jerusalem. It seems that this, among other things, has influenced the Palestinian public’‎s weak response to attempts by the Palestinian movements to motivate mass protests of the declaration.




[1] #انتفاضة_القدس

[2] #حماس30; #القدس_عاصمة_فلسطين; #HandsOffJerusalem

[3] #جمعة_الإرادة

[4] @AshrafMjomaa , Facebook, December 21, 2017. 

[5] #القدس_عاصمتنا; #انتفاضة_العاصمة

[6] @RamallahNewsOfficialPage , Facebook, December 22, 2017 ; #القدس_عاصمة_فلسطين

[7] Facebook , December 18, 2017; Facebook, December 19, 2017. 

[8] Facebook , December 6, 2017. 

[9] @mawtinii, Facebook, December 14, 2017. 

[10] @alhamidhi7c , Twitter, December 18, 2017.  

[11] @RamallahNewsOfficialPage, Facebook, December 23, 2017.  

[12] @Rasha_elali, Twitter, December 23, 2017.  ‎

[13] @MaanNews, Facebook, December 22-23, 2017.  

[14] @Ramallah.Mix1 , Facebook, December 21, 2017; @RamallahNewsOfficialPage , Facebook,  December 22, 2017; اعجبني في فلسطين , Youtube, December 21, 2017.