by Hans Izaak Kriek*
From their perspective, taking any contentious terminology from previous failed U.S. efforts in the Mideast, would serve only to entangle them in a web from where there would be no escape. Speaking at the Time 100 Summit in New York City, Trump’s senior-adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner was asked if the anticipated U.S. plan, now expected to be issued publicly at the beginning of June, includes the formula of a state called Palestine next to Israel, he replied: “I think that if people focus on the old traditional talking points, we will never make any progress.”
To supporters of this approach, the Trump team is showing great skill at dealing with substance while dancing around terminological traps. To opponents, the presidential advisers are showing that they over their heads in tackling what Kushner himself acknowledged is “about as tough of a problem set as you can get.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s approach has evolved in a similar manner. His outright objection to a Palestinian state was changed in a speech in 2009 in which he expressed his willingness to live alongside such a state, and later by comments in which he preferred to speak of Palestinian rule in demilitarised territories and evaded the issue of whether it would be called a state.
Due to the U.S. president’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, which included the transfer of the American Embassy from Tel Aviv, his acceptance of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he works on forming his new government, is more willing to accept, albeit cautiously, that he and Mr. Trump can work together regarding this peace plan. The Palestinian Authority (PA), on the other hand, has declared that the? Trump plan “won’t amount to anything”? because the president has already shown his pro-Israel stripes, they argue.
Trump’s team has accepted the argument that the Palestinians have lost previous opportunities, for instance at the 2000 Camp David summit, when Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Barak spoke with U.S. President Bill Clinton and PA leader Yasser Arafat of concessions regarding Jerusalem and a withdrawal from nearly all of Judea and Samaria, in addition to a handover of territory within Israel to a Palestinian state to compensate for areas that Israel would continue to hold in Judea and Samaria.
The mistrust between the PA and the Trump administration is mutual. Washington is largely circumventing PA leader Mahmoud Abbas and his advisers, and instead dealing with Arab states with which the Trump administration has already built an alliance: Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia as well as other Gulf states. It’s also focusing on the people in the Palestinian areas instead of the leadership.
It is clear, that Kushner and his colleagues are restraint to mention a Palestinian state, because they do not trust the current leadership to run a state. Instead, the focus, they say, is on the people and arrangements worked out with the Arab allies. “Our focus is really on bottom-up, which is how do you make the lives of the Palestinian people better,” said Kushner at the Time event.
President Trump has addressed various issues, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as though they were business deals. In this spirit, the U.S. team reportedly has been offering aid to countries that help advance this plan, and Kushner said that the key in helping the people who live in the PA territories is not whether it is called a state, but instead: “What can you resolve to allow these areas to become more investable?”.
He spoke begrudgingly of the traditionally thorny issues ranging from refugees to the final status of Jerusalem, saying that the plan does “deal with all the core status issues, because you have to do it.” “However,” said Kushner,” we’ve also built a robust business plan for the whole region.” Whatever the framework is ultimately called, “tough compromises” will be required by both sides and? “we’re not trying to impose our will,”? he said, using two phrases that have been part of the old-time terminology, even if this is supposed to be a new kind of plan.
Trump’s peace plan for the Mideast has a timeline. It may be less about reaching a final settlement now, and more about setting down new parameters for a changed reality. Jared Kushner thinks that the long-awaited Trump peace blueprint will be rolled out after ‘Ramadan’. Ramadan is expected to begin this year on May 7, and end on June 4. Which means that on June 5 the moon and stars will be aligned just right for the rollout of the plan. Realistically, there will then be about a three-month window for the plan to be presented, until America’s Labor Day, September 2, when the US presidential election campaign will shift into high gear before the primaries in the first six months of 2020. And during that campaign, Trump will again be averse to doing anything that might alienate his strongly pro-Israel Evangelical base.
Kushner sounded resolute about presenting the plan, but so did Trump himself last September, only to be overtaken by events. New reasons may be found after Ramadan to postpone the presentation as well. We must wait and see what will happen.
*International political commentator for European Business Review and editor-in-chief of Kriek Media