WASHINGTON WATCH: An exercise in futility?

Trump’s well-honed strategy in times of trouble, and he’s got a lot, is to deny, distract and attack.

By
December 12, 2018 21:08
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally on the eve of the U.S. mid-term elections

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally on the eve of the U.S. mid-term elections. (photo credit: REUTERS/CARLOS BARRIA)

 
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December has been a very bad month for US President Donald Trump, probably the worst of his corrupt and chaotic presidency.
The stock market tanked over his lies about a trade deal with China; his own Justice Department implicated him in possible campaign finance crimes; final vote tallies showed his great “victory” in the mid-term elections was a stinging defeat; he dumped his chief of staff and his planned successor turned down the job. There’s more, but you get the idea.

This was also the week that he raised the old antisemitic canard of dual loyalty. At a White House Hanukkah party for loyal followers, he “accused Jews of loving Israel, not America,” The Forward reported. He referred to Israel as “your country.”

What next? Trump’s well-honed strategy in times of trouble, and he’s got a lot, is to deny, distract and attack.

He may try to divert criticism by finally unveiling his long-promised but unanticipated Middle East peace plan. It was supposed to come out last fall, then after the mid-terms and now nobody knows, including the authors.
Whenever the plan comes, it will be dead on arrival, doomed by three mortal wounds: Donald Trump, Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas.

None of them is ready, willing or politically able to achieve a conflict-ending resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Netanyahu, facing both serial corruption allegations and a dysfunctional ruling coalition, is in no position to make even modest concessions even if he wanted to – which evidence suggests he doesn’t.

Palestinian President Abbas deeply distrusts both Netanyahu and Trump, for good reason, and doesn’t speak to either one.

All three could be short-termers, making serious negotiations even less likely. Abbas, 82, is in the 13th year of his four-year term with no elections or successor on the horizon; Netanyahu faces indictment in three separate scandals and his government hangs by a tenuous majority of a single seat. Trump has a growing mountain of legal distractions and the attention span of a gnat, in the words of GOP strategist Rick Wilson.

The Trump plan is being put together by a pair of inexperienced amateurs, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and his real estate lawyer Jason Greenblatt.

Kushner has been busy lately as PR adviser to his friend Muhammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince, helping him handle the fallout from his role in the botched and brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi. MBS has reportedly told people he has Kushner in his pocket. The prince is also said to be one of the pillars of the Trump plan, and his shrunken stature could bring all that tumbling down.
In an interview with the Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds, Kushner put all the blame for the situation in Gaza and for thwarting the peace process squarely on Abbas, with not a word of criticism for his old family friend, Bibi.

The administration has further alienated the Palestinians and lost all credibility with them as an honest broker by closing the PLO office in Washington and slashing economic, humanitarian and refugee assistance.

Details of the peace plan are a closely guarded secret. All we know so far is hype. Trump has said the Palestinians will “get something very good” and Israel will pay a “higher price” as a result of the president’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocating the US Embassy there. Those are also major reasons why the Palestinians don’t trust this administration and are convinced that Trump is stacking the deck against them.

Kushner’s approach reportedly is to sideline Abbas and work with Arab allies like MBS and Egypt, Jordan and the UAE who would force the Palestinians to buy in. Ironically, this is the opposite of the eternally failed Arab approach: get the European and Americans to impose on Israel a deal the Palestinians can accept. No Arab country could get away with that.


Although Trump appears to have endorsed the two-state solution – something Netanyahu and his coalition oppose – it is unclear how specific the US plan will be on that subject. Kushner was quoted in The Jerusalem Post saying the concept of a state “means different things to different people.”

Most Arab leaders have grown weary of the conflict and are losing interest in the Palestinian cause as their concerns grow about the threat from Iran. On that front they find common ground with Israel, but they are not about to abandon their brethren.

One thing is certain: no Arab state and certainly not the Palestinians (nor the Europeans and Russians) will accept anything less than the two-state solution with a sovereign Palestinian state with its capital in east Jerusalem.

A peace plan put together under the leadership of Orthodox Jews who are well to the right of the American Jewish community and have close ties to the settler movement is not going to instill confidence on Capitol Hill either.

Members of Congress, particularly among the incoming House Democratic majority, largely support the two-state solution. Moreover, most Democrats and Jewish lawmakers are troubled by Netanyahu’s right wing rejectionism and his tight embrace of Trump.

There will also be some new voices on the Hill. Newly elected progressive lawmakers have been highly critical of Trump and Netanyahu policies toward the Palestinians and are already speaking out. Two in particular.

Representative-elect Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan) is one of two Muslim women elected last month. Her grandmother lives in the West Bank village of Beit Ur al-Fauqa, near Ramallah, and the new congresswoman has said she intends to lead a congressional delegation to the West Bank to highlight the Palestinian perspective and to offer counterpoint to those sponsored by AIPAC to Israel.
She and Representative-elect Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) will be greatly outnumbered but will try to inject new perspectives into the debate.

Whether the administration plan is unveiled this month or next year, it is doomed because the president has eschewed the role of honest broker, said Aaron David Miller, a veteran Mideast negotiator. Trump appears largely aligned with Netanyahu, hostile to the Palestinians and dismissive of the two-state solution. That cannot produce “a deal both can accept,” he noted.

Israeli-Palestinian peace will not be possible without a serious commitment by both sides, and from what we’ve seen, this president and his amateur Mideast team have done nothing – less than nothing – to bring that about.

Trump has said “the ultimate deal” may not be “as difficult as people have thought.” That proves one thing: he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not another real estate deal in which he can bully both sides into accepting his terms.

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