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Elusive quest for peace

Jul 04,2017 - Last updated at Jul 04,2017

Every time a newly elected US president takes up office, he finds the Arab-Israeli conflict topping the list of important challenges ahead.

Without a single exception, every US president in the last six decades tried to deal with the issue, with the intent of reaching a settlement, but unfortunately all such efforts have so far failed.

For some reasons, mainly the special relationship between Washington and Tel Aviv and the unlimited US support for Israel, this conflict counts as both an external and a domestic American issue.

One other significant reason is that the role of the influential Israel lobby in any US elections is instrumental.

In this respect, President Donald Trump is no exception.

While campaigning, he made clear that once the time comes, he would work for an Arab-Israeli settlement, which he did not think was as difficult to achieve as hitherto feared.
Trump must have believed that by demonstrating support for Israel and by adopting the Israeli position in almost its entirety, the Israeli leaders would be more forthcoming in responding to his would-be peace efforts.

The US president did not wait long before embarking on a diplomatic course towards that end.

“President Trump boasted during the election that his real estate background could help him succeed where other US presidents have failed in making what he calls the ‘ultimate’ land deal — a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians” wrote Anne Gearan and Karen De Young in The Washington Post on June 30, adding, that “once he took office, he dived into the seemingly intractable conflict immediately and personally, and named his son-in-law and a trusted family lawyer as would-be peace envoys.”

The Washington Post article reminded of an April Trump pronunciation that “[T]here is no reason there’s not peace between Israel and the Palestinians — none whatsoever”.

“But five months into the job,” the newspaper added: “Trump is learning that enthusiasm, business acumen and family connections go only so far, and that a strong pro-Israel stance doesn’t mean Israeli leaders will see things his way.”

Actually they did not.

I argued on this page (May 23) that despite Trumps’ sincere intentions, the new US peace mission may not prove possible.

My point was, and has always been, that Israel, not the Arab or the Palestinian side, would not facilitate, let alone accept, any deal, no matter how compatible with its exaggerated demands and prohibitive conditions.

Trump’s optimism must have been based, as he himself often stated, on expressed commitments to the cause of peace from the Israelis, the Palestinians and the Arab leaders.

The problem, however, is not to have the concerned parties to agree that peace is a good goal to pursue. No one disagrees with that. The problem is how to agree on the terms of the envisaged peace.

What is needed is a fair, just and comprehensive conflict settlement that leads to peace, not a peace that ignores not only the root causes of the historic dispute but also the terrible consequences that continue to prevail, depriving the entire region of political stability, peaceful and secure life, prosperity and normal living conditions.

For Israel, peace means full denial of Palestinian territorial, political and historic rights, even if the Palestinians, recognise Israel as the land of the Jewish people.

In that context, no amount of Palestinian or Arab concessions would be sufficient to satisfy Israel. Not once did US peace ideas clash with Israel’s terms. They were always tailored, often cleared in advance with the Israeli government, not to cause concerns within the Israeli circles. And yet, Israeli leaders were never satisfied. 

When it was not easy for them to openly deny generous offers from staunch allies, such as this one, they would come up with new pretexts for putting the spoke in the wheel to block movement; just as Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did this time.

Netanyahu’s “spoke” was a video he played for Trump during their meeting on May 22, which contained compiled material implicating Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in anti-Israel incitement.

Trump was due to meet Abbas the next day, and when he did, many news reports, in addition to The Washington Post mentioned above, described the meeting as stormy, with Trump accusing Abbas of tricking him.

According to Gearan and De Young, some US officials “concluded that by showing Trump the video, which included snippets of Abbas appearing to incite Palestinians to violence, Netanyahu was intent on killing any possibility of peace talks before they even began”.

Israel had no reason whatsoever to block the Trump initiative, which, except for the mild “hold off on settlements for a bit” that hardly been pursued, would have totally been in Israel’s favour.

But that is the way it is.

When Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who was put in charge of the issue, accompanied by Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s Middle East peace envoy, and US ambassador to Israel David Friedman met with Netanyahu on June 22, asking him to define his terms for a possible settlement, they were only served with the usual list of Israeli demands to carry to the PA President the next day.

The messaged passed to Abbas blamed him for paying salaries to “terrorist” families or for not condemning resistance — “terrorist” as described in the message — acts against the occupation.

Abbas was also asked to stop using official Palestinian media for inciting haters against Israel, was required to recognise Israel as the state for the Jewish people with Jerusalem as its indivisible capital and to accept Israeli settlements in designated areas in the West Bank.

Abbas was also told that he should not expect more than a demilitarised state and that Israel would maintain its security control over the entire West Bank in any future settlement.

As expected, the meeting with Abbas did not go well at all. He countered by demanding that all settlement activity be stopped and, of course, disagreed with all that was offered.

That does not count as honest brokerage or fair mediation. But that has been the case with most previous American mediators.

If that could help explain why all previous efforts failed, it does not in any way explain why Israel had constantly rejected such favourable peace offers. But again, that is the way it is.

Washington seems to be intent on pursuing the peace effort regardless.

 

There is talk of a meeting in Washington for all sides towards the end of the year. The prospects however remain bleak.

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