In the Middle East, the most tribal and volatile region in the world, warring parties agree on one thing: Donald Trump’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan is going nowhere fast.
With Israel heading toward elections on April 9 and focused on a northern threat made worse by Trump’s withdrawal from Syria; Saudi Arabia in a state of internal panic over the stability of its leadership; the Palestinian Authority vowing to reject Trump’s ideas outright; and the US gearing up for its own presidential elections next year, the White House peace plan – allegedly set and ready to go at “the right time”– appears delayed yet again, if not indefinitely.
Administration officials insist their initiative will eventually launch, claiming, on the one hand, that they will wait patiently for a ripe moment, and, on the other, that such a moment might never come to pass.
On one hand, Trump’s peace team says it cannot be responsible for embarrassing the country, the president or the administration by publishing a plan that falls flat on its face out of the gate. Yet it also refuses to give up, insisting that circumstances will serendipitously change just enough for the world to take the plan seriously.
Trump’s team – led by Jared Kushner, his son-in-law; Jason Greenblatt, his special assistant and envoy to the process; and David Friedman, his ambassador to Israel – have floated trial balloons on some of their proposals. Some have flown and some have not. But no one knows precisely what their initiative entails – many in Washington doubt a full draft actually exists – and so it is fair to say that its contents might still surprise the region and reframe discussion around the peace process in more productive terms.
Nikki Haley certainly thinks so. In her final speech as Trump’s ambassador to the UN, the celebrity envoy became only the third senior administration official – save the president himself – to offer glimpses of detail into the plan.
“It is time we faced a hard truth: both sides would benefit greatly from a peace agreement, but the Palestinians would benefit more, and the Israelis would risk more,” Haley told a routine Security Council meeting on the Middle East peace process. “It is with this backdrop in mind that the Trump administration has crafted its plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.”
“I don’t expect anyone to comment on a peace proposal they have not read. But I have read it. And I will share some thoughts on it now. Unlike previous attempts at addressing this conflict, this plan is not just a few pages, containing unspecific and unimaginative guidelines – it is much longer. It contains much more thoughtful detail. It brings new elements to the discussion, taking advantage of the new world of technology that we live in.”
Haley, Greenblatt and Kushner have previously said that the plan includes provisions that will irk both sides.
“It recognizes the realities on the ground in the Middle East have changed – and changed in very powerful and important ways,” Haley continued. “It embraces the reality that things can be done today that were previously unthinkable. This plan will be different from all previous ones. The critical question is whether the response will be any different. Ultimately, as always, the final decisions can only be made by the parties themselves. Israelis and Palestinians will decide their own futures.”
MARTIN INDYK, who once served as US envoy to the Middle East peace process and now is at the Council on Foreign Relations, told The Jerusalem Post last week that Trump has “already done immense damage” to America’s role as peacemaker by relocating the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and systematically cutting off aid to Palestinian causes.
“The way he handled his decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem, with the accompanying boast that he had “taken Jerusalem off the table,” drove both the Palestinians and the Saudis away from the table. And he managed to eliminate America’s role as an honest broker between the conflicting parties,” Indyk said. “Without effectively reengaging both of them, there is zero chance that his peace plan will go anywhere. It will be dead on arrival.”
PA officials have been consistent in their castigations of the Trump administration, claiming it completely forfeited any role it might have had in a future peace process with its Jerusalem announcement one year ago.
Indyk also argued that Trump’s destabilizing policies in the wider Middle East – particularly his sudden withdrawal of American forces from Syria last month – would have an adverse effect on the peace process by making Israel feel too insecure to make meaningful concessions to the Palestinians.
Israeli officials have expressed alarm at the president’s policy, which calls for a full withdrawal of roughly 2,000 US troops stationed in the country’s eastern provinces. The move led Trump’s defense secretary, James Mattis, and his top counter-Islamic State official, Brett McGurk, to resign in protest.
“Instead of trying to bring the Palestinians back to the table, he has engaged in a punitive policy of eliminating aid for everything but the Palestinian security services. Anybody who has had any experience dealing with the Palestinians could have told him that won’t work with the Palestinians, but he’s not listening to them any more than he is prepared to listen to Mattis,” said Indyk.
Even if the administration does release the plan, it is certain to wait until after Israel’s elections in April. in order to calibrate whatever it has devised to the incoming government. US officials doubt that anyone to the right of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be capable of, or even interested in, making peace, or that anyone to his left can win – meaning the plan is likely dead without the reelection of Netanyahu, a man Palestinians fundamentally do not trust.
Saudi officials told The Wall Street Journal they are uninterested in joining a peace process that would further stir the pot for Riyadh at a time when the kingdom faces unprecedented instability, in light of the brutal murder of US resident and Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
And as Trump gets closer to his own reelection campaign, he will be less likely to take on risks of public humiliation, such as the total collapse of a peace effort he once hailed as his top foreign policy priority.
There are some signs the White House is readying for a launch. Haley’s comments suggest a strategic vision has taken shape. The team’s small, close-knit staff continues to train and hire new members for a public sale of the plan, and Kushner is preparing to be the public face of the effort – a rare spotlight for an aide who has long worked behind the scenes.
But the region seems to have come to the conclusion that the plan is either deferred or stillborn. It would probably be fine with either.
Join Jerusalem Post Premium Plus now for just $5 and upgrade your experience with an ads-free website and exclusive content. Click here>>