Trump Goes After The ‘Ultimate Deal’

US President Donald Trump has completed a two-day visit to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, a trip in which he met both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The visit is part of Trump’s pursuit of what he has dubbed the ‘Ultimate Deal,’ which is a peace agreement between Palestinians and Israelis. On arrival in Jerusalem, Trump preached a message of optimism. “During my travels in recent days, I have found new reasons for hope. We have before us a rare opportunity to bring security and stability and peace to this region and its people, defeating terrorism and creating a future of harmony, prosperity and peace, but we can only get there working together. There is no other way.”

On Tuesday, Trump met President Abbas in Bethlehem, amid low expectations. “Trump may find it to be easy to launch negotiations, but he cannot guarantee the results; we have been negotiating for 25 years and we should learn not to repeat previous mistakes,” Palestinian political analyst Ali Jarbawi told Al Jazeera. At a joint press conference at the Presidential Palace, Abbas told reporters that he hope that history would mark Trump as the man who achieved Middle East peace. In a subsequent speech at the Israel Museum, Trump declared his confidence that Abbas was a willing partner in the pursuit of peace. Significantly, during the visit, Trump made no mention of Palestinian rights, or concrete plans to address Palestinian concerns. He did, however, reaffirm his opposition to engaging Hamas, who govern Gaza, in negotiations.

Following a joint meeting on Monday afternoon, Trump talked about Netanyahu’s role in the process. “He’s working very hard at it – it’s not easy. I’ve heard it’s one of the toughest deals of all. But I have a feeling that we’re going to get there eventually.” Netanyahu had earlier said that Israel was committed to peace with all of its neighbours, including the Palestinians, but that such a peace had to be based on recognition, Israel’s right to control its own security and durability. Netanyahu has been seen as letting domestic political pressure constrain his pursuit of a peace deal in the past. However, Netanyahu told President Trump, “For the first time in my lifetime, I see a real hope for change.”

Trump has signified that achieving a peace deal is a foreign policy priority for his administration. He appointed key advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner as his Middle East peace envoy in November. Trump is pursuing the deal with such energy for a number of reasons. Following meetings with Arab leaders in Riyadh on Sunday, Trump outlined that improved relations with the Arab states rest on Israel’s ability to conclude a peace deal with the Palestinians. If successful, improved relations could solidify an anti-Iran coalition in the Middle East. Consecutive US administrations have failed to achieve a peace agreement on the issue, with the most recent breakdown occurring in talks led by former Secretary of State John Kerry in 2014. If Trump can achieve a lasting agreement, he would add some gravitas to his dubious claim that he is the world’s greatest dealmaker.

Yet, thus far the new President has provided no explicit proposals or strategies that would make such a complicated deal work. Wide differences remain between Israel and Palestine in regards to the return of refugees, the role of Hamas, the ability of Palestinians to determine their own security, state capitals, and particularly the issue of Israeli settlements on occupied land. Even the Two-State Solution, so long seen as the only viable option for a negotiated peace, has been thrown into doubt by Trump himself. The conflict has cost an estimated 15,000 lives since 1948, divides a region and religions, and leaves an entire people stateless. To end this human suffering, this must only be the first of many such efforts from Trump. Nuanced, fair and well-informed compromises must be put forward, and a peaceful solution pursued with relentless energy. If not, a conflict that has bred violence and misery for more than 70 years will continue, and Trump’s diplomatic bluster will be exposed for what it is.

Isaac Ohlin

I am a student studying for a Masters of Peace and Conflict Studies in Australia. I have a particular interest in UN-related issues and conflict resolution and transformation.

About Isaac Ohlin

I am a student studying for a Masters of Peace and Conflict Studies in Australia. I have a particular interest in UN-related issues and conflict resolution and transformation.