Washington moves ahead with peace plan despite dim prospects
US President Donald Trump and his team, led by son-in-law Jared Kushner, were supposed to unveil their much-anticipated Israeli-Palestinian peace plan soon after Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu formed his new government after the election in April.
That this government did not come into being, and that Israel is headed for new elections in September, not only exasperated Trump but put the peace plan on hold. Nonetheless, Trump, bucking conventional wisdom, is likely to use the plan as a cudgel against Democrats in 2020 even if it has virtually no chance of working.
Trump, on June 3, said the political situation in Israel was “all messed up.” He underscored that Israeli politicians “ought to get their act together” but seemed to acknowledge that there was not much he could do about it except to wait for the new Israeli elections to settle things.
Trump not only wanted his friend and political ally Netanyahu to come out a winner by leading a coalition government but to use that opportunity to make public his administration’s long-awaited peace plan, which he said in 2016 would be the “deal of the century.”
Never mind that most experts had serious doubts about it even when it was being drafted by Kushner, who had no diplomatic experience prior to 2017 and seemed to be aligned with Netanyahu’s thinking. Although it is difficult to analyse a plan that has not been released, the fact that Kushner hinted that it does not involve Palestinian sovereignty has convinced most serious observers that the plan is likely to be dead on arrival.
Interestingly, top Trump administration officials acknowledged the difficulty of moving it forward when it is finally released. The Washington Post reported that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told a gathering of American Jewish leaders recently that the plan may be “unexecutable” and may not gain traction. Pompeo also said he understood the perception that “this is going to be a deal that only the Israelis could love.”
This was a stunning acknowledgement by a secretary of state. Although Pompeo also said he hoped people would give time to listen to the plan and “let it settle in a little bit,” he was clearly trying to downplay any expectations about it.
Perhaps even more surprisingly, Trump seemed to acknowledge the difficulty of moving the plan forward. On June 2, he said, in reference to the plan’s chances, that “we’ll see what happens.” Trump expressed some optimism but qualified it by saying Pompeo “may be right.”
Trump has been receiving outside advice from conservative think-tank specialists to shelve the plan because a failed plan, in their view, could result in violence that could rebound against Trump and his supporters.
The Washington journal Politico reported that James Carafano of the conservative Heritage Foundation said unveiling the plan now would “make the US seem unserious.”
Other analysts suggest that, by the time a new Israeli government is formed, probably in November, that will run up against the beginning of the long US presidential campaign, which would take time away from selling the plan in the region.
Still, there are countervailing reasons why Kushner and Trump will want to stick with the plan and give the appearance of trying to move it forward.
First is ego. Trump is loth to admit a mistake and Kushner has invested so much time and energy in this plan that he would not want it shelved. Indeed, the same Politico article stated that Kushner and other White House aides “appear intent on going full speed ahead.” That is also the reason the White House is not postponing an economic conference related to the peace plan that is slated for late June in Bahrain.
Second, and more important, Trump himself sees an opportunity to hit back at Democrats who charge that he should be impeached. He has labelled them the “anti-Israel” party and would probably take delight in hearing them criticise a peace plan that is heavily tilted towards Israel. By doing so, Trump would solidify his base with evangelical Christians and conservative members of the American Jewish community.
Although mainstream Democrats and liberal members of the American Jewish community have made compelling points on television that any peace plan that does not mention the need for a two-state solution is doomed to failure, Trump will ignore the realities of the Israeli-Palestinian situation by hyping the Democrats’ criticism of Netanyahu’s policies and claiming that only he and the Republicans have Israel’s interests at heart.
This may be a clever strategy for Trump’s supporters but it is not going to widen Trump’s base. Democrats and independents, recent polling indicates, want US president to play a more even-handed role, which the Trump-Kushner peace plan is unlikely to do.
Hence, Trump is probably going to unveil his plan in November and say he is serious about it all the while knowing it does not stand any real chance of succeeding.