The toughest deal for President Trump to make is the peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.
“I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like…I can live with either one”. This was the view expressed by President Trump regarding the Palestine-Israel conflict, the resolution of which has been endlessly debated for decades.
His Middle East diplomatic team includes his son-in-law Jared Kushner, a real estate developer with a central role on the team. The strategic usefulness of this choice is questionable – many Palestinians are likely to distrust him, as his family’s foundation has funded settlements in the occupied West Bank that are illegal under international law.
Trump has made many promises regarding the Middle East, both before and after his election. Amongst his most controversial was his pledge to move the US Embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Unsurprisingly, this caused outrage and alarm as Jerusalem is divided into two zones, Israeli (West) and Palestinian (East). Extreme Israeli military regulations intimidate the lives of those living in Palestinian East Jerusalem. Such a move would undoubtedly end in an eruption of more conflict and a severed Palestine-US relationship.
President Abbas at the White House
Mahmoud Abbas, President of the State of Palestine and the Palestinian National Authority (PA), who met with President Trump last Wednesday, expressed his concern, highlighting the Palestinian demand for an independent state along pre-1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, and requesting that the Palestinians be given their right to “freedom…dignity, and the right to self-determination”.
Another significant problem for Palestinians is the increasing Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Israel’s Housing Ministry revived a plan for at least 10,000 new homes in East Jerusalem, which is Palestinian territory. This has increased fears of the annexation of this part of Jerusalem and a tightened Israeli grip on the inhabitants of the area.
It is already extremely difficult for many Palestinians to enter the city, with IDs required and various checkpoints (some of which are only accessible to Israelis, restricting the mobility of Palestinians). Laws also make it difficult for Palestinians in Jerusalem to retain their required IDs for the city, as they must renounce them if they are to marry someone from outside of the city.
President Trump may have eased worries triggered by his earlier comments, however, when he called on Netanyahu (Prime Minister of Israel) to “hold back on settlements for a little bit” in recognition that it would not contribute positively to the effort to bring peace.
Following their meeting, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer stated that various issues had been discussed:
“advancing the Israeli-Palestinian peace; preventing incitements to violence, particularly media outlets directly associated with the Palestinian Authority; strengthening efforts to combat terrorism, including defeating ISIS; measures to empower the Palestinian economy and provide economic opportunity for the Palestinian people. And, additionally, the President raised concerns about the payments to Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails who have committed acts of terror, and to their families, and emphasized the need to resolve this issue”.
The leaders had also agreed that any solution would have to be accepted by both Palestine and Israel, and that no solution can be imposed on the states by a third party.
Trump also emphasized “the importance of making a clear commitment to preventing inflammatory rhetoric and to stopping incitement, and to continue strengthening efforts to combat terrorism”. He also claimed to support economic growth in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
President Abbas also gave a speech in Arabic, in which he stated that “a peace between both sides will give an impetuous to an International coalition against terrorism especially against ISIS which distorts our noble Islamic religion”.
In the Roosevelt Room, Trump made similar remarks, stating that “peace also means defeating ISIS and other terrorist groups. These groups are a threat to all people who cherish human life. We just continue to build our relationship with the Palestinian security forces to counter and defeat terrorism”. He went on to warn that “there can be no lasting peace unless the Palestinian leaders speak in a unified voice against incitement to violence and hate”.
Former President Obama’s administration had attempted peace talks, but to no avail. The efforts broke down in 2014 after nine months of talks lead by former Secretary of State John Kerry.
Following the presidents’ meeting at the White House, President Trump promised to support Abbas “in being the Palestinian leader who signs his name to the final and the most important peace agreement that brings safety, stability, prosperity to both peoples and to the region”.
His comments seemed eager, as he acknowledged that “the toughest deal to make is between the Israelis and Palestinians”. However, with President Trump’s promises to Israel during his campaign, and Abbas’s heavily declining popularity in Palestine, it is unclear how this could unfold.
Regarding the historical difficulty and complications in negotiating peace, Trump challenged: “Let’s see if we can prove them wrong, okay?”.