Considering all the flash points around the globe, it seemed reasonable to believe that the Israeli-Palestinian dispute would be way down the list for a while. But, according to people who are close to President Donald Trump and often discuss Middle East issues with him, he still intends to offer a peace plan within a few months.
When asked whether Trump is depending on his friends in Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations to take the lead and help persuade both Israelis and Palestinians to settle their stubborn dispute, the sources say the only definite step now being discussed is a cutoff of aid to the Palestinians. President Trump is confident that he understands money and its uses better than anyone in diplomatic history.
Doing his best to show that Trump is no chump, he tweeted on Tuesday: “We pay the Palestinians HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect.”
When it comes to carrots and sticks, Trump plans to withdraw the vegetables. To the Palestinians, who need the money, it feels like a stick. The same is true of Pakistan, apparently shocked by Trump’s decision to withhold $255 million in aid, because, “They have given us nothing but lies and deceit” by continuing to shelter terrorists.
He may be hoping that Pakistan, which occasionally helps the United States with its myriad post-9/11 problems in Afghanistan, will do so more consistently. When it comes to the Palestinians, Trump’s goal is coming into focus but seems based on flimsy wishful thinking.
Trump and his advisers reject what governments around the world have said about his declaration last month that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and the U.S. embassy will move there from Tel Aviv. On Twitter, Trump revealed that in his view, he took “Jerusalem, the toughest part of the negotiation, off the table.”
For Palestinians, other Arabs, and Muslim activists around the world, Trump actually placed Jerusalem right in the middle of a boiling caldron of rejection.
Yet, according to people who heard his views in private recently, he seems genuinely optimistic that his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has what it takes to mediate a deal that has eluded peacemakers for half a century.
Trump’s tweet contained an interesting clue that he intended to use a stick on Israel, in some form undefined, after the carrot of his Jerusalem declaration. “Israel, for that, would have had to pay more,” the president wrote. Trump and Kushner, while positioning themselves as friends of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, were planning to insist that the Israeli leader and his cabinet must make more concessions to please the Palestinians in the West Bank.
Israeli reluctance was underlined by a new law, hurriedly passed by the Knesset this week, blocking withdrawal from any part of Jerusalem without approval by a two-thirds majority in that parliament.
Yet as of now, Trump blames the Palestinians for the stalemate that has persisted, with occasional bouts of bloodshed, since Secretary of State John Kerry’s mediation efforts collapsed in 2014. Trump is clearly offended that the Palestinians — by far the weaker party — refuse even to talk with American diplomats. Trump will not accept that he has become untouchable — a pariah to Palestinian politicians.
Trump, who this week is using Twitter to poke several hornets’ nests that include North Korea, is determined to press ahead with a Mideast peace effort. He will insist that a deal is possible, that whether the two sides like it or not, this will be good for them.
Don’t hold your breath that this is going to work.
Dan Raviv is senior Washington correspondent of i24NEWS and co-author of “Friends In Deed: Inside the U.S.-Israel Alliance.”