Middle East Peace Mission
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
American Jews and even Israelis have been so distracted by other events that many are unaware of the presence in Israel of Trump’s Middle East peace negotiating team. Jason Greenblatt and Jared Kushner spent more than four hours today with Prime Minister Netanyahu, on the day following Bibi’s wife’s indictment for misusing the funds in the Prime Minister’s office. Meanwhile, President Trump and the entire country has been driven by the immigration crisis. It has now escalated again, after the disclosures that over 2000 children who were separated from their mothers, now have been dispersed to holding facilities not only in the southwest but throughout the country.
The Trump Middle East peace proposal, meanwhile, is reportedly reaching its final stages of preparation. It is being discussed by most of the potential crucial players to a proposed final settlement. The general outline of the agreement–presumably for a two state solution–probably has not changed much since Clinton’s last meeting at Camp David in 2000. What has changed has been the actors and even countries actively engaged in the process as well as the negotiating strategy.
All Administrations have engaged in some form of dialogue with all interested parties in the region. So too, having already held meetings in Jordan and now Israel, Greenblatt and Kushner are expected to meet next with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Egypt. It is believed that these meetings with all the Arab States will produce a different direction than had been proposed previously. All these leaders are expected to favor the Palestinians adopting a much more engaged and productive approach to finding a settlement with Israel. Most of these countries have seen the evolution of a more constructive and productive role in their own relationships with Israel. In fact, given their uniform hostility to Iran, this relationship appears to be the most positive regional development in ages, albeit a totally self-interested one.
There are, however, two fundamental problems with the entire Greenblatt-Kushner negotiating strategy. First, since the U.S. announced that it was moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, there have been no known meetings with President Mahmoud Abbas or any of the Palestinian leadership. The Trump Administration, on the other hand, has elevated its relationships with Egypt, Jordan, and the Gulf States as well as intensifying America’s close relationship with Israel.
The U.S. peace proposal, however, will only have one partner to the discussion unless a bridge is found to re-engage the Palestinian Authority. Given Abbas’ age and health issues, if he were to no longer be the key personality within the Palestinian movement, it undoubtedly will take considerable time during an inter-regnum period to reconfigure the Palestinian hierarchy. Only then, perhaps, might a new leadership be prepared to return to the negotiating table.
Perhaps even more unpredictable and potentially dangerous is the situation on the Israel-Gaza border. The drone-kite war which has followed the month long fence confrontation suggests that a military skirmish may well be likely sooner rather than later. The humanitarian crisis that is increasing daily and has been well documented, suggests the immediate need for world-wide intervention. The standoff on the Gaza border is being ratcheted up every day by forces on both sides more interested in persistent tension than any possible solution. In addition, until Hamas—with the blessings and support of Iran–and the PA determine an acceptable and viable modus vivendi, no Palestinian leader will be able to speak definitively for the Palestinian people.
Regardless of the desire that President Trump may have to adding Middle East peace to his accomplishments, this region is not like opening a new possible dialogue with North Korea. Many leaders of all stripes and colors, many with enormously successful diplomatic and negotiating records, have failed in the Middle East. There ought not to be much expectation from this latest incarnation.