Mr. Abbas goes to Washington. Mr. Trump has a new idea that’s really an old idea. And the U.S. Congress is once again threatening to cancel all aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA).
Welcome to the next episode of that endless, popular and – so far – futile game show, “Let’s Make a Peace Deal.” No, it’s not a rerun – it just feels like it because nothing has really changed.
One week, it’s “Move the embassy to Jerusalem!” “Build more settlements!” “Make friends with Bibi!”
The next week, it’s “Let’s study the embassy issue!” “Let’s slow down on those settlements!” “Let’s make friends with Abbas!”
Less than three months into the job, Trump has yielded to the irresistible temptation that confounded, frustrated and damaged the legacies of his presidential predecessors: The belief that he’s going to be the president who can do the impossible and make a Middle East peace deal.
But, because this is Trump talking, it’s not just any deal.
“It might be a bigger and better deal than people in this room even understand,” he proclaimed at a news conference during Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Washington in February.
The latest plan could theoretically be bigger, because it would involve strengthening Israel’s relationship with Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia and focusing on such common interests as containing Iran’s expansionism and defeating Islamic jihadists.
Then, with the help of the U.S., these frenemies might agree on the framework for a peace deal under which Israeli concessions to the Palestinians would be rewarded by these Sunni Muslim regimes’ recognition of Israel.
But, as Jackson Diehl of the Washington Post points out, this idea isn’t new. It was the basis of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which was soon rejected by both sides.
Israel wasn’t prepared to withdraw from as much territory as the deal envisioned, and other Arab countries weren’t – and aren’t – prepared to negotiate the terms of a deal that the Palestinians would immediately reject. http://tinyurl.com/hz8abtz
Now Trump has invited PA President Mahmoud Abbas to Washington, and has dispatched Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt to Ramallah to discuss resuming U.S.-brokered peace talks that broke down in 2014.
According to the London-based Arabic newspaper, Asharq al-Awsat, the PA is ready to resume negotiations if Israel halts settlement building, releases long-serving prisoners, guarantees a Palestinian state within 1967 borders and determines a timeframe for the end of negotiations.
In other words, the PA’s idea of negotiations hasn’t changed: Give us everything we want, and then we’ll negotiate.
Meanwhile, the Republican-controlled U.S. Congress does not appear to be in any hurry to make nice with the Palestinians. In fact, Republicans in both the House of Representatives and the Senate are pushing hard to cut off all aid to the PA – which amounted to $300 million US in 2016 – until the PA stops paying salaries to terrorists and their families.
The Taylor Force Act, named after the U.S. veteran and West Point graduate who was stabbed by a Palestinian terrorist in Jaffa last year, is not a new concept.
Congress has frozen aid to the PA in the past, often prompted by reports by Israel’s Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) that exposed continued hate education and incitement to terror by the allegedly moderate Abbas regime.
Those freezes, however, were ultimately vetoed by U.S. presidents who feared that withholding aid would destabilize the PA and empower Hamas.
The PA’s policy of paying salaries to terrorists and their families, also exposed by PMW, appears to have prompted more international outrage than other Palestinian misuses of foreign aid. And, if Trump goes through with plans to cut the foreign assistance budget by 38 per cent, the Palestinian aid could be an easy target.
But this would deprive Trump of the opportunity to try for the “ultimate deal” that would feed his ego and cement his legacy.
Given that his broad pronouncements are usually followed by backtracking once he talks to people he trusts and who actually have some knowledge of the situation, Trump will likely have to give up on the “big deal” based on the ill-fated Arab Peace Initiative.
He’ll embrace the idea of financial tough love for the Palestinians – until Abbas comes to Washington and pretends to be a statesman, and/or his advisers convince him that it’s too risky to pull the plug on Palestinian foreign aid.
In other words, he’ll continue to be all talk and no action – a role that suits him far better than his current job.