July 23, 2017

Trump v reality in Palestinian-Israeli conflict

Reality check. US President Donald Trump (L) and Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu shake hands after Trump delivered a speech at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, last May. (AFP)

If Trump is going to be the man who finds a solution to the 50-year-old stand-off, it is not going to be based on wishful thinking.
When Don­ald Trump was run­ning for presi­dent in 2016, he bragged he could easily solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. After all, he was a man famous for real estate deals and he was just the man to make the “ultimate” real estate deal happen and solve the stalemate.
Six months into his term as US president, however, Trump is learning that there is a difference between his opinion of his ability to make peace between Palestin­ians and Israelis and reality.
After a honeymoon period in which there was public optimism from both sides about Trump’s efforts, the situation has returned to its normal state of obstinate inaction. Trump is learning the lesson about peace in the Middle East that he is being taught about health care reform: It is a lot harder than it looks.
A good chunk of Trump’s inability to broker an agreement is his own fault.
His administration is once again sending mixed signals about where the United States stands on an important international issue. While Trump has never commit­ted publicly to the two-state solution, which has been official US policy for many years, and the idea of a separate Palestinian state, Nikki Haley, his ambassa­dor to the United Nations, has endorsed it.
Trump also underestimated the support he would get from Israel for a deal. While he may be the most outspoken supporter of Israel in the White House in years, that makes little difference to the Israeli government in terms of its position on negotiations.
When Trump visited Israel this year, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu skilfully tweaked Trump’s easily manipu­lated emotions by showing him a very negative video about Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. When Trump met with the Palestinian leader, he apparently screamed at Abbas that he had “tricked” him, which led to a stilted and wooden Abbas “praising” Trump’s peace efforts.
Trump is learning that Netan­yahu has no interest in any kind of peace deal. He made the point again to the Trump administra­tion when Trump’s son-in-law and chief negotiator Jared Kushner visited Israel in June by starting construction on another settlement in the occupied West Bank.
Then there is the issue of Kushner himself. Kushner seems to have a genuine desire to create a new deal between the Israelis and Palestinians but has zero experience as either a politician or a negotiator. There is also the issue of his role in financing some of the West Bank settlements, which are considered illegal under US policy. Not to mention his role as peacemaker-wannabe has been seriously hindered by his mounting problems with the investigation into Russia’s alleged meddling in the general election in the United States.
Reports stated that his meeting with Abbas in June did not go well. Palestinian officials accused Kushner of “carrying water” for the Netanyahu government by presenting Abbas with a list of demands that could have come directly from the Israeli govern­ment itself.
If Trump is going to be the man who finds a solution to the 50-year-old stand-off, it is not going to be based on wishful thinking and braggadocio. He apparently thinks the problem is easily solved. He joked that getting health care reform passed in the US Congress was more difficult that solving the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.
On a positive note, his envoy to the region, Jason Greenblatt, helped negotiate a water treat between Israel and the Palestin­ian Authority. This is progress, however, it is “low hanging fruit” — as one Israeli activist described it — in the overall picture. The reality is that nothing of sub­stance has changed.
The situation was best summed up this year in a comment by Aaron David Miller, an experi­enced negotiator for both Demo­cratic and Republican administra­tions.
“Never in decades of involve­ment [in the Middle East peace process] have I heard a US president more confident with less prospect,” he said in a tweet.

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