WASHINGTON WATCH: Waiting for peace

The people involved in the Trump Middle East Peace Plan are the reason it might fail.

JOHN KERRY inking the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2015.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
JOHN KERRY inking the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2015.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
There are at least three reasons the Trump Middle East Peace Plan – no matter its merits – will fail: US President Donald Trump, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
They’re all talk and no walk.
Trump is looking for a chest-thumping achievement; substance is secondary. He has a notoriously short attention span, an aversion to details and his thinking doesn’t go much beyond topic sentences and tweets. His secretary of state has reportedly called him a “moron,” and his national security adviser is said to think he’s an “idiot.”
Trump has given the assignment of preparing his “deal of the century” to a group of inexperienced amateurs, several of whom bring a load of biases and excess baggage. Three of the novices – the chief negotiator, the ambassador to Israel and the first son-in-law – are Orthodox Jews and supporters of the settler movement.
That may help explain reports that the plan won’t call for Israel removing settlements or settlers from the West Bank.
Descriptions emerging from various unnamed sources appear to indicate the plan is being drafted in cooperation with Netanyahu’s office, which may itself be a source of many of the leaks.
Whatever its provenance, Netanyahu is confident he can outmaneuver this administration as he has its predecessors.
He will praise Trump’s leadership and friendship for Israel, commend the star-studded Trump team for its contribution and declare his undying desire for peace and readiness to make the difficult, historic decisions required.
That’s just blowing smoke. Like Abbas, Netanyahu is neither ready, willing nor able to make peace. Abbas, 82, is in the 12th year of his four-year term as president, in failing health and has avoided choosing, much less grooming, a successor.
He is politically weak, his popularity is shrinking and those around him are plotting their course of succession.
Pay no attention to the talk about unconditional talks. Each man has his poison pills. Abbas will want to begin where talks with prior Israeli governments left off – including provisions he rejected at the time and knowing they are unacceptable to Netanyahu.
The prime minister will insist the Palestinians recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, which Abbas adamantly rejects although Yasser Arafat did just that more than 20 years ago.
And then there’s Jerusalem. Netanyahu has said he would never agree to partitioning Israel’s capital, as though the borders were set by divine decree. Not only has he gotten the Knesset to pass a law making compromise on the issue extra difficult but he is also trying to annex more Palestinian territory to the municipality, where it would become part of the eternal and indivisible city.
Palestinians want the eastern part of the city, captured in 1967, for their capital.
Speaking of statehood, Trump has yet to express his support for the two-state solution, although officials are hinting he will. Netanyahu grudgingly endorsed the concept under pressure from Barack Obama in 2009 but has since abandoned that, promising voters in 2015 he would prevent establishment of a Palestinian state.
Netanyahu was able to fend off Obama’s peacemaking efforts for eight years because he had the backing of a Republican Congress committed to opposing anything the Democratic president wanted. That strategy won’t work with a Republican president and a Republican Congress.
One attribute that unites Abbas and Netanyahu is a burning desire to avoid being blamed for the failure of any Trump plan. The last thing they want is to do is incur the wrath of the vindictive, grudge-holding and name-calling president. So Job One is making sure the defeat is hung around the other guy’s neck.
To pressure the Palestinians, the US State Department is threatening to close the PLO’s Washington office.
Ostensibly it is punishment for Abbas’s threats last September to bring war crimes charges against Israel in the International Criminal Court.
The PLO office closure is likely to backfire. It would delight the rejectionists on both sides and demoralize the peace camp.
AIPAC neo-cons have been trying for years to get that office closed in the hope of heading off any serious peace moves, even to the point of spreading a false rumor that the FBI was about to raid the office and shut it down.
The PA is threatening to freeze relations with Israel if the office is shuttered, saying the move shows Washington can’t be trusted to be an honest broker.
State said Palestinians can reopen the office if they engage in “direct, meaningful negotiations with Israel.”
Also collaborating on drafting the Trump plan is said to be Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince and rising power center in the kingdom. The Saudis can offer the Palestinians cover in the Arab world to repel accusations that they’ve surrendered too much to the Zionists.
Israel and the kingdom have been secretly cooperating against Iranian influence in the region, and Netanyahu would like to escalate the relationship. He is telling the Gulf Arabs that making peace with Israel will enable him to be more forthcoming with the Palestinians. That offer is greeted with a huge dose of skepticism. The Saudis and their friends fear he’ll take their gifts and then find ways to avoid delivering on his offers.
The prime minister unveiled his escape strategy last week, declaring “my stance will be decided by the security and national interests of the State of Israel” in responding to any peace deal. Like Trump, he defines “national interest” as what’s best for him personally.
Netanyahu, who prefers preserving the status quo, has a Catch 22 peace strategy. He will insist that Israel can’t make peace with a PA that includes the Hamas terrorist organization, which is dedicated to Israel’s destruction. And if Hamas and Fatah don’t reconcile and form a unity government, he will point out that Israel can’t make peace with the Palestinians if they can’t even make peace with each other.
Trump sees the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a personal challenge to his highly touted (by himself) negotiating skills and a Nobel Prize opportunity to make the deal of the century.
Those who would most like to see him succeed are the vast majority of American Jews and progressives who would never vote for Trump under any circumstances.
His narrow base in the Jewish community and the very influential Evangelicals would prefer Trump turn his energy elsewhere and wait for the Messiah to bring the Israelis and Palestinians to the peace table.