The assumptions on which he appears to be basing his plan—whatever its precise contents turn out to be—are so flawed that it is fair to wonder if his aim is really to start serious negotiations, or simply to please …Trump’s base by gearing up to blame the Palestinian side for the failure to come.
…More Palestinians now oppose a two-state solution than support one, and a majority—57 percent—say that such a solution is no longer practical because of Israeli settlement expansion, which now extends deep into the West Bank. Over 35 percent of Palestinians now support a one-state solution—in other words, a single country with an Arab majority and equal rights for all—a solution increasingly appealing to Palestinians under the age of 30.
…But while it is already clear that Trump is a terrible dealmaker who has yet to conclude any significant international agreement (the unilateral concessions to North Korea in exchange for a vague pledge to “work towards” denuclearization do not qualify), Middle East peace may be the issue on which he is least well-placed to succeed. While all U.S. administrations have always been closer to Israel than to the Palestinians, they all at least tried to play the role of honest broker in the name of finding some workable compromise, and were seen as necessary partners in the eyes of Palestinians.
But Trump has abandoned even the veneer of objectivity. Just last month, he unilaterally gave Israel one of its most coveted prizes in negotiations, recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, without getting anything in return. To make it worse, he then celebrated the unilateral move of the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem—a move opposed by 128 countries at the United Nations—with a big ceremony organized just one day before Palestinians observe the nakba, the catastrophe of their expulsion in 1948. The embassy ceremony was attended by dozens of Republican-only members of Congress and included speeches by evangelical pastors known primarily for bigoted remarks against Mormons, Jews, and Muslims, suggesting the whole thing was more about domestic politics than Middle East peace.
While dozens of Palestinians in Gaza were killed in clashes with the Israeli Defense Forces, the Trump administration chose neither to express sympathy for the Palestinians killed nor to join international calls for Israeli restraint. Trump has, on the other hand, cut financial assistance for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) out of pique that the Palestinians have not given him the requisite “appreciation or respect,” as if humanitarian aid, even when it serves U.S. national interests, should be awarded in return for flattery. His administration has offered unconstrained support for settlements, with an ambassador who has fought against use of the word “occupation” and refers to “Judea and Samaria,” as favored by Israeli settlers, instead of traditional U.S. references to the West Bank.
…There is no doubt Kushner heard positive words from Arab friends in private meetings on his just-finished four-day trip to Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Qatar, before going to Israel. But he should not hold his breath waiting for those leaders to publicly embrace positions on peace that the Palestinians—and the vast majority of their populations—reject.
…Putting aside that the Trump administration has not even made or been able to attract major investments in U.S. infrastructure, which makes one wonder about the West Bank and Gaza, this emphasis on economic issues has been tried unsuccessfully many times before. …The key issues remain borders and sovereignty; security; settlements and occupation; refugees; and Jerusalem.
…With Netanyahu and his wife the subject of several serious corruption inquiries, the prime minister likely sees his only hope as to keeping that hardline cabinet together to stave off or delay potential indictments. It is far from clear that the Israeli people themselves are prepared to make the major compromises required for peace, including the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of settlers from the West Bank. But it is quite clear that the current Israeli government is not ready to do so.
…Another reason to proceed would be to blame the Palestinians, rather than the difficult context and Trump’s mistakes, for failure to make “the ultimate deal.” If past is prologue, we can expect the Israeli side to say “yes, but” (while meaning “no way”) and that the Palestinians will fall into the trap of rejecting a U.S. plan or not engaging at all. This would please parts of Trump’s base and may get the administration off the hook for trying, but it would only further divide the Israelis and Palestinians, while exacerbating partisan divides on Israel in the United States as well.
…The lopsided UN vote against Trump’s decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem shows that it is the United States, and not the Palestinians, who are isolated. In fact, the cancellation of a recent soccer match between Israel and Argentina in part because Netanyahu’s government insisted on the political symbolism of holding it in Jerusalem may signal an acceleration in the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.