No ‘ultimate deal’?


So, the “ultimate deal” might not be made after all. That’s according to US President Donald Trump who questioned whether peace talks between the Palestinians and Israel will ever resume.

Sitting alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Davos, Trump said that by taking Jerusalem off the table, he had paved the way for a restart to the talks because the Palestinians never could get past the issue.

But Trump’s statement that Jerusalem is “off the table” contradicts what he himself said when he made his Jerusalem announcement: that the US decision to recognize the city as Israel’s capital will not influence the final status issues, including its borders and that those questions are up to the parties involved.

And taking Jerusalem off the table does not mean everybody lives happily ever after. It certainly does not make Jerusalem Israel’s capital, not when Trump’s recognition of the city broke with decades of US policy and put it out of step with the rest of the international community.

It must also be asked why Trump is incensed that Palestinians refused to meet Vice President Mike Pence during his recently concluded Middle East tour and his adamancy to cut aid to the Palestinians unless they appear at negotiations with Israel. On what basis should the Palestinians have met Pence when he was simply going to reiterate Washington’s newest position on Jerusalem? And how can the Palestinians return to the negotiating table when the city they want to be the capital of their future state has been taken off the table?

Trump has always considered himself a winner and rightfully so. You can’t be a multi-billionaire, star in a long-running TV show, win the Republican Party nomination and then beat the Hillary Clinton campaign machine to become president of the United States without any previous political or military experience and be anything short of a winner.

However, at the same time it is not possible for Trump to controversially declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel, decide to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and cut tens of millions of dollars in badly needed aid to the Palestinians, and then expect to land a Palestinian-Israeli deal. Did no one in the White House think to consider the impact that these major policy shifts would have on the Palestinians?

The president also said that he has “a proposal for peace”. While the details have not been made public, the Trump deal would apparently replace Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital with the village of Abu Dis, and that Israel would annex 10 percent of the West Bank, including most of the major settlement blocs. Even the Bill Clinton peace offer to Yasser Arafat in 2000, which he rejected, offered the Israelis only about four to six percent of the West Bank.

The new proposal also reportedly calls for Palestine to be demilitarized and for Israeli forces to continue to monitor the strategic region of the Jordan Valley. Instead of the “ultimate deal”, the Palestinians appear to have been offered a deal they can refuse.

Trump did add that Israel would also be forced to make concessions but it’s anybody’s guess what those sacrifices might entail. It certainly isn’t Jerusalem.

After having previously spoken of his desire to achieve the ultimate deal of bringing peace between Israel and the Palestinians, Trump looks ready to throw in the towel. The hope that has given way to dismay after just one year in office might show that Trump misjudged the difficulties involved in reaching a Middle East settlement. But he must also realize that he is making the job of peace broker infinitely harder and is doing himself no favors by granting Jerusalem a status that is false and cutting aid to Palestinians when their only sin has been an unwillingness to sit at a tilted negotiating table.