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Trump’s ‘deal of the century’ not that great

  • Paula
United States (US) President Donald Trump calls his much-anticipated plan to jump start the Israeli-Palestinian peace process the “deal of the century”. But right now, it’s looking anything but that.
by PAULA SLIER | Jun 13, 2019

Most people seem to be preparing for its failure – not that anyone outside the White House, let alone the general public, has seen its content. At the moment, it’s a lot of guesswork and some leaked information.

Even official statements are none too promising. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the proposal is “very detailed”, but parts of it are, “one might argue, un-executable”.

In comments that were leaked to the Washington Post newspaper, Pompeo told a closed-door meeting of American Jewish leaders that, “I get why people think this is going to be a deal that only the Israelis could love … Everyone will find something to hate about the proposal.”

Even Trump admits that Pompeo could be right, and that the plan his son-in-law and senior White House adviser, Jared Kushner, has been working on for two years, might not go anywhere.

It’s certainly not going to go anywhere in the next three months after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a coalition government two weeks ago. New elections have been called for in September.

Trump is none too pleased. Speaking to reporters on the White House lawn three days after the Israeli parliament dissolved, he said, “Israel is all messed up with their election … They ought to get their act together. Bibi [Netanyahu] got elected. Now, all of a sudden, they’re going to have to go through the process again until September? That’s ridiculous. So we’re not happy about that.”

Last September, when Trump met Netanyahu on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, he told the Israeli leader, “It’s a dream of mine to be able to get that [the deal] done prior to the end of my first term.”

Trump held off on unveiling it until after Israel’s 9 April elections, counting on Netanyahu to win. The argument not to release it before then was so that it would not become an issue in the polls or hurt Netanyahu’s chances of re-election by infuriating his support base. The plan is expected to call for at least a few painful concessions from Jerusalem, which won’t go down well with right-wing Israelis.

But now, the deal, which has reportedly been ready for months, will presumably be delayed again – for the same reasons. It’s unlikely Trump will want to unveil it while Israel heads to another election.

This puts the American president in a difficult position. Time is against him. The new Israeli elections are slated for 17 September. Add to that another two months for a new government – hopefully – to be formed, and you’re in mid-November. By then, the US will be in its own election cycle for party primaries that begin in early 2020. And never mind Netanyahu’s electorate being unhappy about the deal, any calls for Israeli concessions will not be popular among Trump’s core constituency – the evangelicals. He certainly won’t want to alienate them as he runs for re-election.

It’s also questionable whether Arab countries like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar, which have indicated they’re willing to come on board, will take such a chance without knowing if Trump will be returned to office. It’s one thing for them to take that risk now when he still has another year-and-a-half in office; it’s quite another to take it just months before the 2020 US presidential election, scheduled for 3 November. These leaders are facing a fallout in the Arab world from critics who chastise them for selling out the Palestinian cause. They’ll want to know their risk is not for a dying administration.

Without the support of the Arab world, the deal most certainly will fail. And if it does, it won’t help Trump’s electoral chances just months before he faces the polls.

Conversely, if Trumps wins re-election, his “deal of the century” will get a new lease on life. It won’t be easy for the Palestinians, who have boycotted the effort from the beginning, to ignore an American administration for another four years. As a means to win them over, Kushner has divided the plan into two aspects. The first – the economic part – he plans to roll out in Manama, the capital of Bahrain, at the end of the month. The more sensitive aspects of the conflict – the political and security elements – will follow at a later stage.

The Palestinians, a host of Arab countries, Russia, and China plan to boycott the two-day meeting. Dubbed “Peace to Prosperity”, it is meant to promote investment in the West Bank and Gaza Strip by raising tens of billions of dollars in pledges. But there are problems. Prospective donors and investors will want to know the political vision – the end game – before they commit. The very people the meeting serves to help – the Palestinians – won't be present, and Israel’s participation will be by a team representing a transitional government that has no lasting power. And it begs the question: doesn’t the release of even only the economic aspect potentially affect Netanyahu’s electoral prospects – by an administration which says it doesn’t want to have an impact on the Israeli elections? For now, Kushner insists he’ll go ahead with the Bahrain workshop, but it’s difficult to see what will come out of it.

As for the deal itself, there’s talk that the American administration is preparing how to react if it fails. Even without seeing it – and that’s part of the problem – Palestinians insist that it’s tilted heavily in favour of Israel, and doesn’t offer them a state of their own. Assuming they reject it as expected, Israelis on the right could pressure their government to annex parts of the West Bank in response. There are fears this could trigger violence and forever kill efforts to craft a two-state solution. Ultimately, this would be a lot more serious than whether Trump or Netanyahu wins another term in office.

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