By Douglas Bloomfield
Look no further than Donald Trump’s absence from the unveiling of his much vaunted “deal of the century” for Middle East peace to know what he thinks of its chances for success. Instead of hogging the cameras in full bravado, rubbing elbows with his favorite Israeli prime minister and homicidal crown prince, he will be thousands of miles away tweeting or playing golf.
Sending Mnuchin, Kushner
He could easily have made it to Manama, Bahrain, to open what’s being billed as a “Peace and Prosperity Workshop” on June 25 and still make it to Osaka, Japan, in time for the G-20 economic conference three days later.
Instead Trump is sending his feckless treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, which means no other heads of state will be attending either, which is just as well because the whole enterprise is doomed to fail. Perhaps intentionally. That seems to be the consensus of former American diplomats, scholars and other experienced experts on Arab-Israeli peace processing.
The plan to be unveiled by its chief architect, first-son-in-law Jared Kushner, the president’s special assistant and utility fielder who Trump is setting up to take the fall when this fails. (It will be the Trump plan if it appears promising, the Kushner plan when reality sets in.)
National Aspirations of PA ?
The operating premise is that with a generous package of financial promises the Palestinians can be persuaded to shelve their national aspirations indefinitely. To get to phase two, the cart-before-the-horse Trump-Kushner plan demands the Palestinians must first institute extensive political, economic and legal reforms. Even after clearing those hurdles, the plan does not envision statehood for the Palestinians. The White House has said the political installment will come at an indefinite “later time.”
Kushner rejected use of the term “state” in discussing plans for the Palestinians. No surprise, they were not consulted on any aspect of the plan, which seems to mirror the ideas of Netanyahu, who opposes the two-state solution and says, like Kushner, the emphasis should be on creating economic opportunities.
Robert Satloff, the executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think-tank close to the pro-Israel lobby, interviewed Kushner in a public forum and came to the conclusion his plan would be “a disaster” and it would be best to “kill it” now. He called it a “lose-lose-lose proposition” that Trump should immediately shelve if he wants to “avoid facing embarrassing failure.”
Satloff noted Kushner’s lack of “empathy for Palestinian political aspirations,” indicating Trump and his team are clueless about the essences of the conflict.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak called the Trump approach naive. “National aspirations and the desire for economic well-being don’t operate on the same plane,” he pointed out.
Who Was Consulted?
Kushner has done next to nothing to build support for his plan here or among Palestinians. They were not consulted. Nor were the Congress or Jewish leaders. Maybe Trump is counting on strong criticism from Democrats in Congress and Jewish leaders so he can blame someone for another notch on his growing list of failures. Look for another tweet tantrum accusing all Democrats and liberal Jews of being anti-Israel and anti-Jewish, and sabotaging his son-in-law’s wonderful peace plan.
No Briefing In Ramallah
Kushner will stop in Jerusalem on his way to Bahrain to brief Israeli leaders although it is widely believed Netanyahu has been involved in the process all along. However, he won’t be stopping in Ramallah to brief Palestinian leaders; they’ve been left out of the deliberations even though it is their own future that is involved.
In fact, the Trump administration has gone out of its way to ensure Palestinian rejection of the plan. Over the past two years it has been bashing and punishing the Palestinians, cutting off virtually all U.S. financial and humanitarian assistance, closing the PLO office in Washington and ending virtually all contacts. At the same time, it has essentially greenlighted Israeli settlement expansion and annexation of parts of the West Bank, poison pills for any negotiations.
If Trump thought that these punitive measures might force the PA to capitulate, he showed that he doesn’t know the difference between Manhattan real estate negotiations and Middle East diplomacy.
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said, “We do not submit to blackmail, and we don’t trade our political rights for money.”
Veteran U.S. Mideast envoy Aaron David Miller has called the Trump administration approach to the Palestinians “cruel, stupid, and counterproductive.”
Is Plan Doomed?
Even if Trump and Kushner and his team of former Trump Organization bankruptcy and real estate lawyers were not so inept, the plan would be doomed because the Israeli and Palestinian leaders themselves are not ready, willing or able to make the historic decisions peace demands.
Kushner said his plan will be an “exciting, realistic and viable pathway forward” as though he were peddling overpriced condos.
He has apparently been signing up prospective investors in the Gulf, Europe and Asia for his pet project. He knows that America’s Arab friends – Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and others – long ago grew weary of the Palestinian cause, frustrated with their uncompromising maximalist demands. But they can’t appear to abandon it. They will continue to pay lip service to Palestinian national aspirations, but they want to move on with their own economic development and combatting the Iranian threat in their region.
Those goals also include growing de facto alliances with Israel, despite virulent Palestinian objections, but it also means there cannot be formal peace and recognition until Palestinian desires for statehood are met.
Netanyahu’s dilemma is how to kill any Trump peace initiative without damaging his nascent friendship with the Gulf Arabs and avoiding incurring the wrath of his benefactor, the volatile, vengeful and grudge bearing American president.
In Satloff’s view, Kushner’s “plan poses a danger to U.S. interests …[and] it is reckless for the Administration to even give it a try.” And that puts it perfectly in synch with Trump’s incomprehensible approach to foreign policy.