Participation in Trump's peace negotiations comes at a cost

"We started our movement in 1965 to rebuild our right to self-determination," Dr. Abdullah affirmed, "and we will continue struggling by all legitimate means to regain our sovereignty."

By CHARLES BYBELEZER/THE MEDIA LINE
August 23, 2018 04:41
Participation in Trump's peace negotiations comes at a cost

US President Donald Trump announces his intention to withdraw from the JCPOA Iran nuclear agreement during a statement in the Diplomatic Room at the White House in Washington, US, May 8, 2018. (photo credit: REUTERS/JONATHAN ERNST)

United States President Donald Trump asserted Tuesday that Israel would need to pay a hefty price in any future peace negotiations because of his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and move the American Embassy to the holy city. The US leader added that the Palestinians would soon "get something very good…because it's their turn."

Hours later at a news conference in Jerusalem, US National Security Adviser John Bolton qualified that there was never any quid pro quo attached to the mission's relocation and poured cold water on the notion that President Trump's statements constitute or portend a change in American policy.

"As a deal-maker, as a bargainer, [the president] would expect, you would expect, I would expect, that the Palestinians would say, 'okay, so we didn't get that one, now we want something else," Bolton reasoned in front a packed room of journalists. "But the fundamental point is that ultimately this is something that the parties are going to have to agree on."

In response, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, former Palestinian Authority deputy foreign minister and current Chairman of the Political Committee of the Palestinian Legislative Council, dismissed President Trump's rhetoric as "hollow promises."

"We are not that naive enough to be lured by Trump, who destroyed the peace process altogether and [disqualified] the US as a mediator in the negotiations," he stressed to The Media Line. "The only thing that the Americans can do is to reverse the decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish people. The Palestinians are interested in their national rights in their country with its capital.

"We started our movement in 1965 to rebuild our right to self-determination," Dr. Abdullah affirmed, "and we will continue struggling by all legitimate means to regain our sovereignty."

The development comes after President Trump's point men on the peace process, senior adviser Jared Kushner and head negotiator Jason Greenblatt, last week reinforced Washington's commitment to re-launching talks; this, while stressing that neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians will be entirely satisfied with their 18-months-in-the-making proposal.

To this end, President Trump has multiple times this year intimated that Israel will need "pay more" in any negotiations. Speaking in January alongside Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the US leader stated, “You won one point [on Jerusalem], and you’ll give up some other points later.” Notably, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman previously acknowledged that the government had to "be prepared" to make concessions following the embassy move, explaining that “there is no free lunch.”

Perhaps, then, Bolton was merely sugar-coating a self-evident fact—that Israel will need to make "painful" compromises in order to achieve peace. But observers opine that this is far from revolutionary or unexpected. What is surprising to many, however, is the White House's inclination to allow PA President Mahmoud Abbas an apparent victory given his unequivocal condemnations of Trump administration policies.

Indeed, Abbas has effectively been boycotting Washington since the Jerusalem declaration, and on numerous occasions has rejected out-of-hand the yet-unveiled American peace proposal. In the interim, the PA boss cursed President Trump by wishing that, “may your house be destroyed," and referred to US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman as a “son of a dog.” Palestinian officials have labelled Greenblatt a "Zionist," and called for US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley to “shut up.”

Only one week ago, the White House threatened to bypass the PA altogether if it means reaching a cease-fire deal between Israel and Hamas that might allow for the Gaza Strip's reconstruction.

Given Abbas' conduct, coupled with the ongoing intra-Palestinian divide between the PA-controlled West Bank and Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, Bolton's affirmation that President Trump "brings reality to a negotiation that for decades has been conducted in an Arab unreality" raises an obvious question: namely, is the White House being clear-eyed or operating with eyes-wide-shut by pursuing the "deal of the century?"

Dr. Yossi Beilin, an architect of the 1993 Oslo Accords, hopes that President Trump envisions an even-handed process, "because the Palestinians are very worried about the peace plan and view it as something pre-arranged with Netanyahu. If this is the case, they will not be involved.

"If there is something of importance for the Palestinians then this is different," he elaborated to The Media Line. "I don't know exactly what the threshold is but if, for example, the US administration called for parts of [eastern] Jerusalem to become the capital of a Palestinian state or [sought] to compensate or allow a symbolic number of Palestinian refugees to return to Israel—then this could act as a platform for talks."

Dr. Beilin believes that it is still possible to reach an all-encompassing settlement, and warns that whoever succeeds Abbas is unlikely to be as moderate. "We know more or less what a solution will look like and this can be implemented in the West Bank. Right now it would be hard to include Gaza [in the equation], but it is nevertheless important to get the terms down on paper and explain how the [end-game] can be reached."

Gilead Sher, a Senior Research Fellow and head of the Center of Applied Negotiations at Israel's Institute for National Security Studies, is less convinced that the prevailing environment is favorable to achieving an end-of-claims pact and thus foresees President Trump promoting a step-wise process. "Based on my understanding, the [White House] plan focuses on the rehabilitation of Gaza and ending the security crisis more than on resolving the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict," he conveyed to The Media Line. “The focus might be on ensuring that the conditions for a future [comprehensive] accord be maintained without necessarily venturing into this territory."

One of the first things that could be done, in his estimation, is to delineate Israel's future borders, effectively resolving another final-status issue. The "Gaza powder keg" must also be addressed immediately, "in order to suppress the violence and improve the humanitarian situation for the people. This, under a very strict monitoring mechanism that ensures that in a few months or years there will be no new round of acute fighting.

"If I were to advise President Donald Trump," Sher concluded, "the 2014 cease-fire agreement devised by the Egyptians [that ended the war between Israel and Hamas] is a very good place to start. Add to that the 2011 reconciliation deal between [Abbas' ruling] Fatah [faction] and Hamas and you might not have to re-invent the wheel."

Assuming a piecemeal approach—that is, implementing whatever intermediary steps, even baby ones, that are presently possible—would, in fact, constitute a change of course. The past three American administrations, those of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, all set their sights on the grand prize, to no avail.

As a result, there is a growing sense of dejection on both sides, as evidenced by this week's passing without any fanfare of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the formalization of the Oslo Accords. Completed on August 20, 1993 and signed the following month during a ceremony at the White House, the agreement was hailed as a milestone, with Rabin, Arafat and then-Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres the next year sharing the Nobel Peace Prize.

But the ensuing era has been defined by little peace, a lot of violence, and even more diplomacy, with President Trump the latest to jump into the ring. And while he repeatedly has voiced an intention to forge the "ultimate deal," past events suggest that a less-is-more approach may be required to gradually untangle the web of intricacies inherent to the conflict.

Should the White House instead choose to "go-big or go-home," then history calls for the limiting of expectations, even while hoping for the best and, most importantly, preparing for failure.

 

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