Not long after Donald Trump assumed the presidency of the United States, he made overtures to the Palestinians in the hopes of brokering a peace deal. He invited the acting-President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, to the White House on May 3, 2017. They discussed tackling terrorism and building economic prosperity for Palestinian Arabs and the promise of working together to build a better future for the region.
Shortly thereafter, on May 23rd, President Trump visited Abbas in Bethlehem and reiterated the need to confront terrorism, “Peace can never take root in an environment where violence is tolerated, funded and even rewarded…. The terrorists and extremists, and those who give them aid and comfort, must be driven out from our society forever. This wicked ideology must be obliterated — and I mean completely obliterated — and innocent life must be protected.”
Just a week later, Trump handed a peculiar gift to Abbas: on June 1 he removed the Abu Nidal Organization (ANO) from the list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations.
ANO was part of the October 1997 initial class of FTO’s along with HAMAS and Hizbullah. ANO carried out roughly 90 hijackings, assassinations and kidnappings of diplomats, and attacks on synagogues during the period 1974-1992 killing about 300 people to earn the FTO designation. The group targeted people viewed as moderates – including Palestinians – who contemplated the ongoing existence of the Jewish State. When Abu Nidal died in 2002, the group went inactive.
Which begs the question of why Trump took a 15-year defunct group off of the FTO list, right after meeting with Abbas.
Abbas was (and remains) a very unpopular leader among Palestinian Arabs have wanted him to resign according to each poll taken over the last many years, with 64% holding such opinion at the time of the Abbas-Trump meeting. Abbas polled to come in third in a theoretical three-candidate presidential race at that time!
So Trump threw Abbas a bone to boost his standing among Palestinians, to demonstrate that he could deliver results with the new U.S. President. It was arguably a meaningless gesture as the group was inactive, but it was symbolic in clearing the name of one of the most radical and notorious Palestinian terrorist groups.
In exchange for the Trump pardon of the ANO, Abbas advanced the idea of stopping the pay-to-slay program in which the PA paid the families of terrorists in Israeli jails. The proposal landed with a thud among the Palestinians, with a nearly unanimous 91% of Palestinians standing opposed to messing with the martyr-moolah.
Things then soured at the United Nations.
Abbas met with Trump on September 20, 2017 and voiced optimism regarding the efforts Trump’s team had made with over 20 meetings with Palestinian officials in the first months in office, but he then launched his habitual screed before the United Nations General Assembly with comments about Israeli Jews living in “East Jerusalem” which will “stir religious animosity and may lead to a violent religious conflict,… playing with fire … drag[ing] us into a religious war. This is dangerous, extremely dangerous for you and us,” in a not so subtle threat of a global jihad against Jews.
Abbas further threatened Jews and insulted Trump by declaring at the end of his speech “I salute our glorious martyrs and our courageous prisoners in Israeli jails,” to appease his Arab base. This embrace of terrorism and public challenge of Trump’s demand to stop rewarding terrorism was too much. Less than three months later, Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish State.
Abbas squandered Trump’s gift of removing an evil jihadist group from the U.S. list of terrorist organizations to gain Palestinian support. Instead, he elected to boost his own jihadi bona fides and stood before the world glorifying Palestinian terrorists who killed Israelis and threatening a global jihad if Jews continued to live in their holiest city of Jerusalem. Trump’s reaction was swift in recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Abbas’s political self-immolation continues to burn to this day.