President Trump is due to meet Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority President this week at the White House. This is the first time the pair have met and follows Trump’s meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in February. Trump has ambitious plans for resolving the Israeli-Palestine conflict and believes it is an area in which he can succeed, whereas preceding presidents have failed. Abbas has also shown optimism for the meeting, telling Palestinians in Washington DC last night that “We hope this will be a new beginning.”
With that said, Trump’s approach to the conflict has thus far been hazy. In February, he renounced US support for a two-state solution to the conflict, which has been a central tenet of US policy towards Israel and Palestine for decades. He has also threatened to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, a move that would prove to be very unpopular with Palestinians. However, Trump has also simultaneously stressed to the Israelis to curb settlement building in the West Bank, which is a significant concern for Palestinians. What has been made clear is that the Israeli-Palestine conflict is a significant priority for the president. In fact, Vice President Mike Pence has said that Trump is “personally committed to resolving the Israeli and Palestinian conflict.”
Trump, of course, is faced with both criticism and scepticism at his chances of reaching the “ultimate deal” of which he is “personally committed to.” Analysts have often raised concerns with regard to Trump’s unpredictability and impatience in relation to his foreign policy decisions, two characteristics that may not conducive to the achievement of peace between Israel and Palestine. These concerns are demonstrated by Trump’s National Security Adviser General H.R McMaster’s comments last night that Trump “does not have time to debate over doctrine” and instead seeks to challenge failed policies of the past with a businessman’s results-oriented approach. Many would argue that this kind of approach is not suited for such a tense diplomatic situation. McMaster also commented on the president’s temperament and stated that “The president is not a super-patient man,” which he described as being an asset. For instance, as with much of Trump’s foreign policy decisions thus far, if it does not serve the US national interest then it does not deserve the attention and investment of the US: “Some people have described him as disruptive. They’re right. And this is good – good because we can no longer afford to invest in policies that do not advance the interests and values of the United States and our allies.”
These factors concerning Trump’s approach coupled with the continuing mutual distrust between Israel and Palestine and the growing concern that Israel is not demonstrating a genuine commitment to the two-state solution means that the expectations of Trump to make a breakthrough are low. In 2015, it was reported by CNN, that the current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was asked by an interviewer with the Israeli news site, NRG “if it was true that a Palestinian nation would never be formed while he’s prime minister,” to which Netanyahu replied, ‘Indeed.'” This was followed up by a statement from his party, which explicitly stated that “any evacuated territory would fall into the hands of Islamic extremist and terror organisations supported by Iran,” therefore, “there will be no concessions or withdrawals; they are simply irrelevant.”
Trump’s meeting this week will give us an update on his, thus far, ambiguous strategy towards Israel and Palestine. However, it remains to be seen if he will remain “personally committed” to the resolution of conflict or if he will find he “does not have time,” especially if the process does not serve America’s interests enough.