In Trump Abbas-meet, hope springs eternal as peace prospects run dry
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In Trump Abbas-meet, hope springs eternal as peace prospects run dry

Leaders’ outpouring of enthusiasm that a deal can be reached does little to cover up the fact that one offered nothing new and the other offered nothing at all

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

US President Donald Trump meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the Oval Office of the White House on May 3, 2017 in Washington, DC. (AFP/MANDEL NGAN)
US President Donald Trump meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the Oval Office of the White House on May 3, 2017 in Washington, DC. (AFP/MANDEL NGAN)

Despite a display of unabashed enthusiasm rarely expressed regarding one of the most intractable conflicts in the world, US President Donald Trump’s performance alongside Palestinian Authority counterpart Mahmoud Abbas Wednesday will likely do little to convince the world that he can succeed in brokering a peace deal where so many others have failed.

Trump’s show of unbridled optimism that he will reach a deal, and even that solving the conflict is not as difficult as others have made it out be, couldn’t cover up the fact that he failed to enunciate a single policy or principle or new idea that could guide the negotiation process toward any kind of progress, let alone the signing of a final-status peace treaty.

“Never in decades of involvement have I heard a US president more confident with less prospect,” tweeted veteran US peace negotiator Aaron David Miller, who has worked under Republican and Democratic administrations.

Despite Trump’s claim that “there’s a very, very good chance” for a peace deal, even today — after he has hosted leaders from both sides and had his emissary Jason Greenblatt travel to the region and meet a host of stakeholders — it is still entirely unclear how he intends to square the Israeli-Palestinian circle.

US President Donald Trump and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speak in the Roosevelt Room during a joint statement at the White House in Washington, DC, on May 3, 2017. AFP PHOTO / NICHOLAS KAMM)
US President Donald Trump and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speak in the Roosevelt Room during a joint statement at the White House in Washington, DC, on May 3, 2017. AFP PHOTO / NICHOLAS KAMM)

If anything, watching the joint statements Trump and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas delivered Wednesday in the White House, it is harder than ever to believe in peace in our time.

Once again, Trump avoided endorsing Palestinian statehood or even the concept of “two-states for two peoples,” merely offering to help reach the two sides with “anything they’d like to do.”

“The Palestinians and Israelis must work together to reach an agreement that allows both peoples to live, worship, and thrive and prosper in peace,” Trump said, standing in front of a Palestinian flag. “And I will do whatever is necessary to facilitate the agreement — to mediate, to arbitrate anything they’d like to do.”

President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu participate in a joint news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu participate in a joint news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

One state, two state, whatever. The world gasped in shock when, during his February press conference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump casually dismissed what has been a global consensus position.

But if he’s really serious about brokering peace, Trump will eventually have to embrace the two-state solution, many analysts, including this writer, postulated at the time. If this administration will ever proclaim Palestinian statehood as a policy objective, it did not happen on Wednesday.

And if Trump did not utter the words “two-state solution” while hosting the Palestinian leader in the White House, he is unlikely to do so after Abbas has left the premises. Maybe the president is saving this declaration for his planned visit to the region later this month. Maybe not. Perpetually surprising everyone seems to be a central element of his foreign policy.

President Donald Trump welcomes Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to the White House in Washington, Wednesday, May 3, 2017. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Donald Trump welcomes Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to the White House in Washington, Wednesday, May 3, 2017. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Trump’s backers often tout the fact that he’s not a stuffy policy expert as one of the main reasons he may be able to finally untie the Gordian Knot of Mideast peace.

The president is unorthodox, unpredictable and has defied all expectations more than once, his supporters say.

After decades in which so-called experts dominated the peace process but failed to produce a final status agreement, they argue, maybe a former real estate magnate who thinks outside the box can master the art of the “ultimate deal.”

But making Mideast peace is not the same as a cutting a deal for a piece of New York property, and Abbas made clear he isn’t buying Trump’s Brooklyn Bridge.

The Palestinian leader read out a long and detailed laundry list, sticking with his familiar positions, while making sure to politely respond to Trump’s optimism in kind.

“Our strategic choice is to bring about peace based on the vision of the two-state — a Palestinian state with its capital of East Jerusalem that lives in peace and stability with the state of Israel based on the borders of 1967,” he said.

The Palestinian leader mentioned the “issue of the refugees,” but instead of indicating willingness to abandon the demand for a “right of return” — a total nonstarter for any Israeli government — he said the problem would be solved “according to the terms of international law” and based on previous “various relevant references and terms of reference in that regard, and based on what is stipulated in the previous treaties and agreements.”

He cited the Arab Peace Initiative and pointed to past UN resolutions; denied that Palestinian children are being raised to hate Israelis; refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish state; and lamented that the Palestinians are “the only remaining people in the world that still live under occupation.”

US Secretary of State John Kerry arrives to the Palestinian Authority headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah for meetings with Palestinian officials on November 24, 2015. (AFP / ABBAS MOMANI)
US Secretary of State John Kerry arrives to the Palestinian Authority headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah for meetings with Palestinian officials on November 24, 2015. (AFP / ABBAS MOMANI)

In other words: both Abbas and Trump said they really want peace and truly believe it is possible, but one offered the same-old formula that has failed time and again — and will continue to fail — to produce a peace deal, and the other offered no formula at all.

“We will get it done. We will be working so hard to get it done,” Trump said at the conclusion of his remarks.

Later, after Trump said that solving the issue may not be as difficult as thought, former US envoy to Israel Dan Shapiro tweeted “I’m an optimist by nature. But goodness gracious!”

As Shapiro’s boss, former US secretary of state John Kerry, aptly demonstrated with his failed effort in 2013, hard work and the sheer desire for a breakthrough are not nearly enough.

The Obama administration failed to make any headway in the Israeli-Palestinian arena also because it too dogmatically clung to certain paradigms, such as the “not-one-brick”-policy equating remote West Bank outposts with Jerusalem neighborhoods.

But Trump’s adamant refusal to define the contours of the elusive final-status deal he so eagerly wants to facilitate does not inspire great confidence in his abilities as peacemaker, either.

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