Mideast peace: What’s the (ultimate) deal, Mr. President?

Mideast peace: What’s the (ultimate) deal, Mr. President?

Maggie Haberman, The New York Times reporter who seems to know more about what goes on in the White House than many who work there, told a 92Y audience Sunday evening that she sees “no evidence” of the highly anticipated Mideast peace plan the administration keeps saying it will roll out soon.

“There’s a lot of optimism” within the administration, “but it doesn’t seem to be based on anything,” she said. 

Adding to the skepticism is the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters after his Monday meeting at the White House with President Donald Trump that he was given no details of the plan’s timetable and that most of the discussion was about stopping the Iran threat, with little talk of the Palestinians.

There have been news reports from the Arab press of details of the U.S. plan, which is said to call for east Jerusalem to be the capital of a Palestinian state, the Old City of Jerusalem to be under “international protection,” the relocation of some Jews living in the settlements, and the end of “the right of return” of Palestinian refugees to Israel. That’s an awfully ambitious and controversial list to begin with, not counting the fact that Palestinian leaders have shut down diplomatic contact with the U.S., citing what they consider to be blatant Trump favoritism toward Israel. The administration’s response is to cut aid to the Palestinians. 

Not a great recipe for coming back to the peace table.

The likelihood of a major breakthrough on the Israeli-Palestinian front was virtually nil even before Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and announced that the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv will be moved to Jerusalem in May to mark Israel’s 70th anniversary of statehood. Today, with the U.S. perceived by the Palestinians as too biased to be an honest broker, with the administration’s key Mideast official, Jared Kushner, having his security clearance at the White House downgraded, and with both Trump and Netanyahu facing serious political and legal problems at home, it seems clear that the president’s “ultimate deal” is not going to happen anytime soon.

Some Mideast observers say that the point of the administration’s plan isn’t to succeed but to have the world see the Palestinians reject it, which would improve Netanyahu’s image as a would-be peacemaker and bolster his view that the Palestinians aren’t ready for peace.

But going through the elaborate motions of crafting a peace deal doomed to failure seems like a tremendous waste of time and diplomatic capital, especially when there are other more practical alternatives for reducing simmering tensions in the region. 

David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who recently returned from high-level meetings in the Mideast, has long promoted the “singles and doubles” approach to improving Israeli-Palestinian relations — that is, taking small steps rather than “going for the home run” of resolving all issues in one grand swing. He notes that each of the previous attempts to do so has failed.

Makovsky is calling for the U.S. and Israel to “pledge to join others in the international community to halt the economic deterioration in Gaza.” In an article on the institute’s website this week titled “Forget The Ultimate Deal: Trump and Netanyahu Should Save Gaza For Now,” he asserted that “halting the economic decline is the best hope to avert a fourth war between Gaza and Israel” in the last decade.

Equally pressing is the deteriorating situation in Syria, whose long and brutal civil war has turned into a world war, with so many countries having a destabilizing presence there. In addition to Russia and Iran, it now appears that North Korea has sent supplies to Syria to be used for chemical weapons against civilians. Trump has talked tough on the crisis but has ceded America’s key leadership role to Moscow. And Israel’s alarm at Iran establishing a permanent military presence next door, in Syria, has not been met by U.S. offers of action.

In the end, there is no one solution to the Mideast conflict, but there is urgent need to address its growing problems.

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