Trump’s Peace-Making Style: Take Your Time But Slay ‘Sacred Cows’ In The Process
The U.S. has indicated that the presentation of Trump’s peace plan could be delayed until sometime in 2019
The Trump administration has told Palestinian Authority (PA) officials that it will delay the unveiling of its long-awaited peace plan until after the U.S. midterm elections in November and potentially longer depending on whether Israel will hold early elections in 2019, according to reports from the Israeli news outlet Hadashot.
The administration is also trying to mend fences with the PA ahead of presenting its so-called “deal of the century.” Toward that end, according to Hadashot, U.S. President Donald Trump has requested a meeting with PA President Mahmoud Abbas during the upcoming UN General Assembly meeting in New York later this month.
For his part, Abbas has indicated he is unwilling to meet with the U.S. delegation unless the administration fires its Middle East envoys Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt. The PA has suggested its desire for a fresh start to the talks with a new U.S. negotiating team.
Meanwhile, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman outlined some of the administration’s preparatory moves ahead of the unveiling of its plan.
At an event to kick off celebrations for the Jewish new year from his residence in Herzliya, Friedman spoke in support of decisions the Trump administration has already made, particularly its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, entailing the relocation of the U.S. Embassy to the city in May. He also touched on U.S. aims to defund and close down UNWRA, the agency that helps millions of Palestinians and their descendants displaced during the 1948 Arab–Israeli War.
In making these moves, the Trump administration has “slayed the sacred cow of the calcified thinking that has held back progress on the Palestinian front,” Friedman asserted.
Beyond killing off the “sacred cow” of Jerusalem’s status, Friedman turned to another: the U.S. defunding of UNRWA. “Since 1994, the United States has thrown more than $10 billion in humanitarian aid to Palestinians,” Friedman said.
“Without minimizing the importance of medical treatment and quality education for children—and we don’t, not even for a minute—we found that these expenditures were bringing the region no closer to peace or stability, not even by a millimeter. To spend hard-earned taxpayer dollars to fund stipends to terrorists and their families, to expend funds to perpetuate rather than mitigate refugee status, and to finance hate-filled textbooks—I ask you, how does that provide value to the United States or the region?”
As Friedman’s words suggest, the Trump administration appears to be pursuing a type of slash and burn policy by taking contentious core issues such as the “right of return”—the right of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to return to Israel—or the political status of Jerusalem, off the table in the hope of rebooting the parameters of future negotiations.
Indeed, Trump himself has employed such language. During a campaign rally in Charleston, West Virginia, last month he reflected on his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. “It was a good thing to have done,” the U.S. president said, “because we took it off the table. Because every time there were peace talks, they [Palestinians] never got past Jerusalem becoming the capital. So I said, let’s take it off the table.”
However, more questions remain about Trump’s modus operandi. On one hand, he seems intent on delaying the unveiling of his peace initiative for reasons that have not become entirely clear. Some observers have suggested that the administration might be waiting for a post-Abbas scenario to emerge; the PA president is 82 and has been in poor health as of late. On the other hand, many are wondering if Trump believes that clearing out contentious issues is the necessary pre-unveiling work that must be done.
Asaf Romirowsky, a Middle East historian and Executive Director of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, told The Media Line that “there are positive steps being taken, the problem is clearly the execution and how it is being sold.”
He added that “the steps are correct” as the UNRWA issue is “the guarantor that the conflict will never end so long as it exists. So, tackling it head-on is the right way to go about it. But clearly there is a great deal of pushback. Now, the Europeans are trying to make up the deficit in the funds that have been slashed.”
As to why the administration is delaying its plan, Romirowsky said the “post-Abbas environment is definitely a factor… but the problem is what happens in that case.”
He explained that there will likely be attempts by Hamas to takeover the PA, or just younger individuals within the PA vying for power. These individuals, he contended, are no less corrupt than the current leaders at the helm.
The U.S. administration is “trying to create a new playing field using legitimate tactics, but there is still the [PA’s] old guard that is buying into the preexisting conditions because they benefit from them financially.”
Dr. Ido Zelkovitz, an expert on the Palestinian-Israeli conﬂict and a Policy Fellow at the Mitvim Institute, told The Media Line that first the U.S. administration “is trying to reset the reality before taking action on the ground.”
Secondly, he explained, Trump’s plan has elicited a lot of talk, but still nobody really knows what it contains. “In this sense, the administration is also trying to find its way to reshape a deal according to its own beliefs. In doing so, administration officials are conducting experiments trying to gauge the reactions of leaders on both sides to their statements and ideas.”
“But the lack of trust between the U.S. and the PA right now is bigger than ever,” Zelkovitz concluded. “Trump’s decision to postpone the peace plan is a smart move and the right one because there is no directional between Abbas and Israeli Prime Benyamin Netanyahu.
“This current situation will not create an atmosphere of cooperation and goodwill that will take the peace process one step further.”