We try to avoid giving the “peace process” too much credibility because it was supposed to deliver Palestinians sovereignty 20 years ago (or 70) and it never has. But recent days have seen several incidents that have dashed any thought that Donald Trump would be neutral or an honest broker. So here we go again.
A week ago Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s longtime real-estate lawyer and special representative for Middle East peace, went out to Israel and Palestine and spent most of his time on the Israeli side of the equation: sitting shiva with the family of an Israeli police officer allegedly killed by three Palestinians inside occupied Jerusalem and describing that as an act of terrorism– “She was murdered by terrorists.” Greenblatt also prayed at the Western Wall and chatted up the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
The imbalance was obvious:
A familiar pattern: US peace Envoy Jason Greenblatt is frequently outraged at Palestinian actions, but never criticizes Israel publicly pic.twitter.com/Wq3OrBe2PS
— Aaron Magid (@AaronMagid) June 22, 2017
The next day Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and lead negotiator, arrived and reportedly spent 2-1/2 hours with Netanyahu– after observers, including the Washington Post’s William Booth, noted that Kushner hugged Netanyahu.
To be sure, Kushner has a lot of boo-birds among the veteran peace-processors who doubt that this thirty-something orthodox Jewish prince of real estate whose family funded settlements can be at all effective. Like longtime negotiator Aaron David Miller:
If Kushner’s going to do the ultimate deal. it’s going to take more than honey but ample amounts of vinegar too.
Or Martin Indyk, who is cynical about Netanyahu playing the young man:
Bibi arranges warm welcome for Jared: a new settlement and denunciation of Abu Mazen as an inciter. Deja vu.
After that session, Kushner reportedly carried Netanyahu’s message to Ramallah, and there was a blowup. His meeting with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas was “tense,” said al-Hayat of London (per the Jerusalem Post):
Abbas was supposedly furious with the president’s son-in-law after Kushner relayed Israeli demands to the 81-year-old Palestinian leader which included the immediate halt of payments to terrorists and their families.
Abbas angrily accused Kushner and Trump’s lead international negotiator, Jason Greenblatt, of taking Israel’s side and refused to commit to the request.
The report claims that the Trump administration was equally upset with Abbas after he failed to denounce the latest stabbing attack in Jerusalem.
Haaretz reported the same imbalance (per the Hill):
Israeli newspaper Haaretz also reports that Palestinian officials were “greatly disappointed” by their meeting with Kushner and Trump’s Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt.“They sounded like Netanyahu’s advisers and not like fair arbiters,” a senior Palestinian official told the newspaper. “They started presenting Netanyahu’s issues and then we asked to hear from them clear stances regarding the core issues of the conflict.”
The news reports said that Trump was considering “withdrawing completely from the process” because of the dustup.
Two days later the State Department spokesperson said this was “just false….we are not pulling out in any way, shape, or form.” Though Heather Nauert admitted that the Abbas meeting had been “difficult.”
We understand and recognize that this is not going to be a one-shot deal… It is no surprise also that some meetings and conversations may be a little bit more difficult than others. Some will be more challenging. The President has said himself that it is not going to be an easy process, that both sides – the Israelis and the Palestinians – will have to give a bit…
Daoud Kuttab reported at al-Monitor that the Palestinians felt “abandoned” by the American negotiators, and that Abbas was losing even more credibility among Palestinians as a result:
With the exception of Greenblatt’s iftar with the Palestinian patients at the Maqassed Hospital in East Jerusalem, and its meeting President Mahmoud Abbas, the US team had no other meeting with the Palestinians. Between June 19 and June 22, Greenblatt posted 10 tweets detailing meetings with Israeli officials, writers and families versus one tweet of his meeting with Abbas and two of his visit to Maqassed Hospital…
Palestinian officials contacted by Al-Monitor said they felt abandoned by the United States as their negotiating team left little leeway for Abbas to be able to show something for his efforts and attempts to keep the lid on the brewing public discontent with him.
Those Palestinians were angered by Greenblatt’s trip:
Palestinians have also pointed to the Twitter feed of US special peace envoy Jason Greenblatt as a sign of the pro-Israel bias of the American negotiating team. Greenblatt has tweeted about visiting the Western Wall, as well as visiting with the families of Israeli soldiers, public figures and intellectuals. In one tweet, Greenblatt described the killing of a member of the Israeli security services by Palestinians as “a brutal act of terrorism.” This description is contrary to the official US definition of terrorism that is limited to attacks on noncombatants.
Aaron David Miller responded to Kuttab that the U.S. is never neutral here:
Daoud — Here’s a news flash for you. You know US can’t be an honest broker; at best, an effective one under certain circumstances.
Miller likes to split hairs here: He has admitted that the U.S. is Israel’s lawyer, but also says that we can be “an effective broker in certain circumstances but rarely as a strictly honest and unbiased one.” (In a Wilson Center event earlier this week, he said that the U.S. has produced “breakthroughs” for peace on three occasions.)
Kuttab noted that the Palestinians were enraged by the new Israeli settlements in occupied territories:
Leading Palestinian daily Al-Quds focused June 23 on the increase in settlement activities as the real proof of who doesn’t want peace. “Talking about peace efforts and having meetings while Israel does what it pleases means that we are translating this effort for peace into the realm of absurdity…. What peace efforts amid all these settlements?”
Here is some of the new colony construction, in the northern West Bank, way beyond any settlement “bloc.”
For the 1st time in years there is construction going on in Immanuel, the isolated ultra orthodox settlement. We r likely to see much more. pic.twitter.com/U2w31wqEs3
— Dror Etkes (@dror_etkes) June 26, 2017
Netanyahu is under rightwing pressure from his own coalition. And Trump and Kushner are also surely feeling the pressure of the rightwing settler cause, inside the rightwing Republican political class. The AP reported this week:
A senior Israeli Cabinet minister is expressing some disappointment with the White House, saying the election of Donald Trump has not brought about the boom in West Bank settlement construction many had expected.
Naftali Bennett, leader of the pro-settler Jewish Home party, says the settler movement expected a building boom after Trump’s election. Many members of the president’s inner circle, including his son-in-law and chief Mideast envoy Jared Kushner, have close ties to the settler movement.
The boobirds again. Martin Indyk throws cold water:
Sounds like Trump’s peace and Gulf Arab mediation efforts are both getting bogged down in irreconcilable demands.
Peace takes 2 folks — strong; who listen; willing to find a balance of interests. Don’t have one on either side; and Washington makes 3
Miller seems to think the thrill is gone from the peace process:
Radio silence on peace process is either b/c there’s something or nothing there “there” to All peace process junkies, what say you?
And meantime the story has moved on to palace intrigue, with the rivalry between Kushner and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Joe Scarborough says Kushner is overweening (quoted by Jewish Insider):
Donald Trump wants his son in law to be the de facto Secretary of State… They are thinking ‘we don’t really need a Secretary of State, Jared’s going to be running everything himself.’ They’ve now gotten into a situation, they said it — I’ll testify under oath they said it repeatedly — Jared’s going to be the de facto Secretary of State… Let Rex Tillerson do his job or name Jared Kushner secretary of state
Nikki Haley, the UN ambassador, was careful to praise Kushner when she testified at Congress:
When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, I think he’s being very effective in terms of– when I was there, there’s hope. I felt it–both sides realized they’ve got to come to the table. Both sides realize something needs to happen. I think he’s handled it respectfully and I think he’s handled it aggressively. So that’s really the one thing I’ve worked with him on.”
While others wonder when the wheels will come completely off the cart.
Just imagine Trump's Tweets if he ever truly gets frustrated with Abbas or Netanyahu https://t.co/3bUplBM1fB
— Aaron Magid (@AaronMagid) June 29, 2017