It appears that PA President Mahmoud Abbas and US President Donald Trump “are experiencing a kind of honeymoon,” Zionist Union MK Ksenia Svetlova said Wednesday night. “Real life will begin soon, in Jerusalem.”
She was just one of many Israeli and American skeptics who watched Trump announce the start of a peace process.
Former US adviser to the peace process Aaron David Miller tweeted, “Never in decades of involvement have I heard a US president more confident with less prospects.”
Trump had none of their doubts as he boasted, “We will get it done.”
His confidence was not dimmed by the failed efforts of at least three presidents before him – Barack Obama, George Bush and Bill Clinton.
Former president Jimmy Carter once said in Jerusalem that one of the deep regrets of his presidency was that he had not been able to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Obama waded into the murky waters of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict very carefully. All along the way he was cautious.
In his first year, he waited for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to announce he supported the vision of two states for two peoples. He pressured Netanyahu to impose a 10-month moratorium on settler housing starts, without ever significantly getting a peace process off the ground in his second year. Only in his fifth and sixth years was he able to hold a nine-month peace process, which fell apart. For the rest of his second term, US Secretary of State John Kerry focused not even on holding talks but on setting terms to create conditions for talks.
Trump just jumped right in, erasing any concept of preconditions for talks. He did this precisely at the point where Israelis and Palestinians seemed far apart. He has yet to say the words “Palestinian state” since coming into office; even as he stood next to Abbas, he didn’t utter those words.
Just the night before, US Vice President Mike Pence said that Trump was “giving serious consideration into moving the American Embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.” It’s a move that the Palestinian Authority, Jordan and Egypt have all warned would lead to violence.
Absent from the Trump-Abbas press conference was any mention of the word “settlements” or a settlement freeze. Trump had asked Netanyahu to contain settlement activity, when the Israeli premier visited the White House in February. But there has been no public request for a settlement freeze.
More significantly, Abbas, in his White House statements, made no demand to freeze settlement building and Jewish construction in east Jerusalem as a precondition to talks.
Instead, he laid out the broad parameters of his known view for a final-status resolution of the conflict: two states with borders based on the pre-1967 lines and with east Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital. Even with regard to refugees, he indicated that he would accept a resolution based on past agreements, a nod in the direction of a just resolution rather than the right of return.
For the cautious politician, the gap between the US, Abbas and Netanyahu appears too broad to even hope that Trump’s new peace process would succeed. But maybe there is something to the idea that the pessimistic details have become too foreboding, and that what is needed is a new dose of brash confidence.
Press secretary Sean Spicer was later quizzed at the White House press conference as to why Trump would succeed where everyone else had failed.
“I think the man is different,” Spicer answered.