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Trump’s reckless peace plan

Holding good on his campaign promises in the very first week of his presidency, Donald Trump has issued a clutch of executive orders involving controversial issues, including building of the wall on the Mexican border and the Keystone and Dakota Access oil pipelines, reversing president Obama’s green energy actions. He has also set out to do something in the Middle East that is to blow up in his face: imposition of a one-sided solution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Towards that end, he has initiated a move to shift the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the city the Palestinians want to be the capital of their elusive state; and also announced the appointment of his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, an Orthodox Jew known for his sympathies for Israel, as a Middle East envoy to broker a Palestinian-Israeli peace deal. Given his blatant support for Israel, he might go ahead with the embassy shifting and lament later, but the other initiative is doomed to fail before it starts.

Trump recently told the New York Times he would “love” to be the one who made peace between Israel and Palestinians, although “a lot of people… really great people” tell him that it’s impossible, he cannot do it. Those ‘really great people’ of course realise that there can be no peace whilst Israel continues with its settlements construction policy aimed at dispossessing Palestinians of all of their lands. Where Trump stands on the settlements – illegal under international law and violative of US’ own longstanding policy – he had made it clear when he criticised the Obama administration’s decision to abstain from voting on the recent UN Security Council resolution that demanded a halt to construction of Jewish homes in the occupied territories. No wonder encouraged by him, Israel has now announced 2,500 new settler homes, most of them to be located in the occupied West Bank. About 100 of these homes are to be built in Beit El settlement, to which his son-in-law’s parents alongside Trump administration’s nominee for ambassador to Israel, David Freidman, have been making financial contributions.

Also, while delivering a speech last March at the Israeli lobby’s most influential arm, the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee, he had received a standing ovation for saying, “the Palestinians must come to the [negotiations] table knowing that the bond between the US and Israel is absolutely, totally unbreakable.” If he expects Palestinians to listen to his son-in-law knowing his own barefaced partisan stance, Trump’s confidence can only be attributed to a lethal mix of naiveté and arrogance of power.

Oblivious of the ground realities, this Monday he called the Egyptian strongman President General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to elicit his and, through him, other Arab governments support for his plan to shift the US embassy to Jerusalem. The readout of the conversation has not been made public for obvious reasons, but it is not difficult to figure out why Trump chose to ask General Sisi for assistance and what the latter might have said in a private conversation with the US President. Egypt having signed a separate peace treaty with Israel – for which president Anwar Sadat paid with his life – receives $1.3 billion annually from Washington for watching Israel’s back. Its policy briefly changed under the country’s first ever democratically elected President Mohammad Morsi, but he could not last long. General Sisi who overthrew the Morsi government went back to doing the US’ bidding, closing the Rafah border crossing with the besieged Hamas-controlled Gaza, also ensuring that the tunnels used for supplying food and medicines to Gaza Palestinian were sealed. If he could afford it, General Sisi would have no qualms about complying with Trump’s wishes. But one can imagine him telling Trump that much as he would like to oblige the US president, he cannot publically support the move as it would be an open invitation to trouble at home as well as in the wider Mideast region.

It is worth noting that although a 1995 US law authorises shifting of the embassy to Jerusalem, successive presidents decided against implementing it in view of its repercussions for the country’s own interests in the Arab world. Trump has chosen to do that at a time the region’s pro-US authoritarian regimes are being challenged by all sorts of elements- from Islamist militants to liberal democrats, radical anti-status quo groups and their regional and outside backers. Despite their widely differing agendas all these people have something in common: anger at Israel’s expansionist policy. The two Trump initiatives will only further fuel anti-US sentiments. And the Palestinians are not going to come to the negotiations table on Trump’s command. Nor are they going to give in their relentless fight against Israeli occupation. They can turn closer to Russia, which has emerged as an influential player in the region’s as well as global power games, and also an increasing assertive China. The new US president is only making his country irrelevant to the situation he thinks is within his powers to resolve to his liking.

Trump may be right in claiming he has great bargaining skills he learned as a successful businessman, but he will also soon learn that striking a political deal is a whole new ball game. People can walk away from offering a bad business deal that did not work without worrying about any after-effects, but proposing a plain bad deal for as sensitive a political issue as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will not end with rejection, it can trigger reactions having a bearing on the US’ strategic interests as well as security concerns.

Saida Fazal, "Trump’s reckless peace plan," Business Recorder. 2017-01-26.
Keywords: Law and Humanities , International law , Social policy , Political culture , Social security , Peace movement , Public affairs , Globalization , Donald Trump , Palestine , Israel , Egypt , China , US , UN , El