US PRESIDENT Donald Trump gestures to the press.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Donald Trump is a man with an intergalactic ego, so it is perhaps no surprise that he believes he can boldly go where no United States president has gone before and reach the final frontier: peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
“I’ve always heard that perhaps the toughest deal to make is the deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians: Let’s prove them wrong,” Trump said Wednesday as he hosted Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the Roosevelt Room at the White House.
At an official lunch with Abbas later in the day, Trump’s self-admiration and faith in his own abilities went into warp drive when he said that peace between Israel and the Palestinians is “something that I think is, frankly, maybe not as difficult as people have thought over the years.”
Well, as, Jean-Luc Picard, the captain of the USS Enterprise, would say, “Things are only impossible until they’re not!”
Despite Trump’s declared willingness to “do whatever is necessary to facilitate the agreement – to mediate, to arbitrate anything they’d like to do,” can he actually live up the hype and “get this done”?
If he did, it really would be “huge.”
But for all his bravado, Trump has so far recorded some pretty spectacular failures on the domestic front – not managing to repeal Obamacare, having his travel ban on people from several Muslim countries frozen by the courts, and failure so far to get funding for a border wall with Mexico, to name a few.
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As for Middle East peace, four previous US presidents who have tried to clinch a final-status deal have all failed.
When pushed following the meeting with Abbas on the fact that his four predecessors all made optimistic predictions on Middle East peace that failed to materialize, White House press spokesman Sean Spicer replied that what would seal the deal was the fact that this time around “the man is different.”
“You have two individuals who because of this president are increasing their desire for peace,” continued Spicer, who also noted “the president’s ability to connect with an individual to work with them toward a shared goal, to have backroom diplomacy.”
With all due respect to the man, while great leaders can certainly change history through the force of their personality, one thing they cannot change is circumstance, and it is extremely doubtful that at this low-point in Palestinian-Israeli relations the right circumstances exist to reach a final-status deal.
Abbas’s position after 12 years in power is shaky; at 82 his successor is unknown, as is what would happen in the Palestinian territories in the event of his passing; and in any event, after rejecting previous Israeli offers there is nothing to suggest he would accept them now and agree to a division of the land or renounce the “right of return.”
Furthermore, Netanyahu’s idea of a Palestinian state is more of a “state minus” with limited sovereignty and limited scale – an offer that would be certainly far less generous than those Abbas has already rejected. Neither would he have the political constellation that would enable him to make significant concessions should he agree to them.
Aiming for the big one could result in backfire. The situation on the ground is already volatile amid a renewed spate of knife attacks, car rammings and the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Six Day War and 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration.
Failure of a diplomatic process could result in a full-blown intifada led by a generation that no longer remembers the costs of the two previous intifadas – the second of them sparked by the failure of the Camp David process.
Trump would do far better to aim for realistic interim goals that will improve conditions on the ground for Palestinians, enable economic growth and stabilize the situation.
Meanwhile, while all sides talk of their fervent desire for peace, a deal is likely to remain illusive and both Israel and the Palestinians will probably be satisfied with seeking to blame each other and timidly go where we have gone before.
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