Be Careful For What You Wish

Be Careful For What You Wish

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

The Netanyahu Government fell all over itself at the prospect of a Trump Government arriving in Washington after what it believed had been eight rocky years dealing with Obama. Many Israeli leaders were now euphoric. They would see the U.S. Embassy moved to Jerusalem, there would be no more pressure for a settlement freeze, there was a right-wing settlement supporter as U.S. ambassador, Jared and Ivanka were in the White House, and there were no State Department types pressuring for movement on the peace process. It seemed like it would be at least four years of bliss. In addition, that he U.S. had an U.N. Ambassador, Nikki Haley, who was evolving into a major, pro-Israel force within U.N. circles demanding more equitable treatment of Israel by the world body.

Practically speaking, however, little appears to have changed in U.S.-Israeli relations. Trump now appears ready to ratchet up the pressure on the Israelis and the Palestinians to make a deal.  Public rhetoric to the contrary, neither the PA nor Israel appear to be sincerely interested in a peace process, yet both sides do not wish to alienate the American President.  Abbas apparently already received a tongue lashing from Trump when they met in Bethlehem and Bibi does not want to challenge the President on a non-substantive dispute.

Both sides, however, are now being pushed to resume peace talks. This time they face a new negotiating system—deal-making. Netanyahu and especially his right wing coalition members do not want to make concessions. Trump wants a deal. His style demands results and he has little patience for a traditional, drawn out process; even in the Middle East. Sending Greenblatt and Kushner to the region for their second visit already is signaling from Trump’s point of view, that the parties now must make progress.

While Obama/Kerry wanted a deal as well, Kerry settled in with his negotiators for an extended effort of talking. Although Kerry did not achieve an agreement, he accepted the norms and worked within them; yet at the end he walked away frustrated.  One has a sense that this is not and will not be Trump’s modus operandi. He wants the parties to meet, negotiate, and finish the deal. If Trump walks away he will blame someone.

So the Greenblatt/Kushner trip–from Trump’s perspective–must demonstrate progress so Trump can extol his negotiating skills. Bibi does not want to be blamed if the talks do not move forward, but he knows his right-wing coalition will not accept a settlement freeze.  Abbas worries that if he moves ahead with talks, Hamas and his own hardliners may sabotage the entire process. His own political future could be destroyed as well. Both the Israelis and the Palestinians could get clubbed by Trump’s impatience and arrogance. The high profile Jews in the Trump Administration on this issue—Kushner, Greenblatt, and Friedman–will also be denounced if there is no deal.

Meanwhile, Israel witnessed U.S. entry into the Qatar-Saudi Arabia confrontation; has seen growing instability in the U.S.-Russia confrontation over Syria; has seen Egypt and Hamas beginning to re-establishing their relationship; and Iran anxiously waiting to join the action.                                                                                                                                                                                                    

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