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Donald Trump and the ‘ultimate deal’

US Politics
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Almost immediately upon getting elected, Donald Trump declared his desire “to do…the deal that can’t be made.” He called an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan “the ultimate deal.” But, since getting elected, Trump’s moves seem to be self-defeating. His actions—and lack of actions—are not conducive to his declared desire.

Immediately following Trump’s inauguration, Israel announced the approval of a huge 2,500 home settlement expansion in the West Bank. Netanyahu called the expansion just “a taste.”

But the significance of the settlement expansion in terms of Trump’s Middle East policy was revealed in White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s choice of words. Netanyahu made the announcement only two days after talking to Trump on the phone. When Spicer was asked about Trump’s response to Israel’s expansion into the West Bank, he said:

“We’re going to have a meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu and we’ll continue to discuss that,” he said. “Israel continues to be a huge ally of the United States, he wants to grow closer with Israel, to make sure that it gets the full respect that it deserves in the Middle East.”

The key word that went unnoticed is “continue”: “we’ll continue to discuss that,” meaning that Netanyahu and Trump began to discuss it two days earlier on their first phone call. Netanyahu’s announcement, then, was made after receiving the green light from Trump. Hence, Spicer’s lack of a denunciation.

Israel began Trump’s second week with another massive settlement announcement, approving the construction of another 3,000 homes in the West Bank. And, again, the Trump administration seems to have had no comment, remaining silent while the building went on. The Chief negotiator for the Palestinians, Saeb Erekat, said that the lack of response from Trump translates into a sign of encouragement for Israeli settlement construction.

Trump stated his intention to initiate Middle East peace talks and pull off “the ultimate deal”. But his actions contradict his promise: you can’t negotiate a Palestinian state on land that you are giving to Israel.

And that is not the only act that contradicts the promise. So does Trump’s choice of his team. Trump has tapped his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as his chief negotiator for brokering a deal between Israel and the Palestinians. But, according to the Washington Post, Kushner is a director of the family’s foundation: a foundation that has made charitable donations to West Bank settlements. The appointment of a negotiator who finances one side of the negotiations renders impartial negotiation impossible. Mustafa Barghouti, a leader of the Palestinian National Initiative and a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council who has been involved in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks before, complained that “We need somebody who is impartial. There is no indication [Kushner] is interested in hearing from the other side.” The Kushner family foundation has also supported groups that support the Israeli military.

What’s worse is that the president of the American Friends in Beit El Yeshiva—one of the settlement recipients of donations from the Charles and Seryl Kushner Foundation—is David Friedman, who is not just a benefactor of that West Bank settlement but Trump’s pick for ambassador to Israel. Consistent with his the role as underwriter for Beit El Yeshiva, but not with Trump’s promise to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty, Friedman supports Israeli annexation of the occupied territories and an end to the “two-state narrative.” Trump’s appointment of an ambassador who supports the Israeli annexation of the occupied territories and rejects a “two-state narrative” and his choice of a chief negotiator who is invested in one side of the negotiations are not consistent with the promise to initiate Middle East peace talks.

At the end of Trump’s second week as president, his position on Israeli settlements became, at once, more nuanced and more contradictory. Immediately after apparently giving the green light, Trump apparently flashed the amber one. While seeming to give Netanyahu the green light in private conversation, the White House gave the amber light in public.

On February 2, the White House broke its silence, declaring that “unilateral” settlement announcements “could undermine our ability to make progress” on a peace deal. The statement came the day after Israel announced the establishment of the first new settlement in years. It also came after a brief meeting with King Abdullah II of Jordan.

But the contradictory amber light contains a contradiction within itself. Though the White House did not totally deflate the warning, it did let some of the air out. Within the very statement that seemed to say the Trump administration was critical of settlement expansion, came the caveat that the president “has not taken an official position on settlement activity.” So, the public position is not yet an “official” position.

Trump’s position became more confusing still with White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s explanation that, “While we don’t believe the existence of settlements is an impediment to peace, the construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful in achieving that goal.’’ Not a contradiction, but not clearly helpful either.

The choice of the word “unilateral” is also curious. Who is the absent bilateral partner? Not the Palestinians. It’s not as if the Palestinians are going to be a partner in agreeing to settlement expansion. Does that mean that what is not helpful is confined to Israeli announcements of new settlements without consultation with its American partner? This interpretation may be supported by the Jerusalem Post’s reporting that a senior administration official told them that “the White House was not consulted on Israel’s unprecedented announcement of 5,500 new settlement housing units. . . .” Further support may also come from former U.S. Middle East negotiator Dennis Ross, who told the Jerusalem Post, “I think it’s designed to chill some of the exuberance of those on the Israeli Right who think they have a blank check. I think that exuberance got their attention. I just don’t think they want any announcements that will surprise them, and they’re still in the process of formulating what their policy is going to be.

Certainly, the Israeli reading was sensitive enough to pick up the contradictions and nuances. Interpreting the White House’s statement as a softening of the position of previous presidents, Israel read Trump’s message as a green light. “Netanyahu will be happy,” a senior Israeli diplomat said: “Pretty much carte blanche to build as much as we want in existing settlements as long as we don’t enlarge their physical acreage. No problem there.” Others in Netanyahu’s Likud party saw it the same way: “It is also the opinion of the White House that settlements are not an obstacle to peace and, indeed, they have never been an obstacle to peace. Therefore, the conclusion is that more building is not the problem.”

And then, unafraid, they acted on that interpretation. On Feb. 6, the Knesset passed into law a bill that allows Israel to declare private Palestinian land on which settlements or outposts were built to be government property. Proponents of the bill celebrated the continuation of settlement and the expanding of Israeli sovereignty over the West; opponents mourned the legalizing of seizure of Palestinian land that further clarifies the death of a Palestinian land and of the possibility of a peace deal. Netanyahu said that he informed the Trump White House of his intention to put the bill to a vote.

Though Trump had been informed of the vote on a law that would retroactively legalize the taking of Palestinian land, the White House, once again, said nothing. Noting that the new law will likely face a challenge in the Israeli Supreme Court, a White House official said that the Trump administration “will withhold comment on the legislation until the relevant court ruling.”

Trump both wants to make “the ultimate deal” and is “withholding comment” on an Israeli law that pulls the plug on “the ultimate deal”.

Days later, on the eve of Netanyahu’s trip to Washington for his first meeting with Donald Trump, a “White House official” who asked to remain anonymous floated the idea that the U.S.’s role was not to impose a two-state solution: “Maybe, maybe not. It’s not for us to impose that vision.” He explained that “Peace is the goal,” but that a two-state solution is not necessarily the path to that goal.

Trump’s foreign policy is still unsettled. But his early statements, absence of statements, and Middle East appointments seem to be self-defeatingly at odds with his expressed desire to be the president who finally closes “the ultimate deal.”

Ted Snider
About Ted Snider

Ted Snider has a graduate degree in philosophy and writes on analyzing patterns in U.S. foreign policy and history. His work has appeared in, ConsortiumNews, and other places.

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8 Responses

  1. Citizen
    February 15, 2017, 12:19 pm

    Fox News show, Outnumbered is on now, showing bibbi’s arrival at WH, noting Trump actually brought his wife with him to greet the lovely couple, showing ultimate respect. Now the Fox girls are all babbling hasbara big time, along with some guest guy; they all made sure to say they support Israel (without saying why), and express happiness Trump appreciates our “greatest ally in the Middle East,”, because Obama treated Bibbi so badly (no mention Bibbi went behind Obama’s back & lambasted his Iran Deal in the making). Disgusting. One wonders if any of these people actually know any details about the historic peace process, not to mention the history of Zionists in Palestine. “Israel has had its back against the wall for 8 years under Obama.” They note there’s bipartisan support for Israel, using Chuckie Shermer as example. OK, not Trump is speaking at the podium, alongside Bibbi” The state of Israel is a symbol of resilent democracy, in the face of….I will do more than anyone to forever prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. America and Israel cherish the value of all human life. UN treated Israel very, very unfairly. ” Ugh, I’ve had enough….

  2. Citizen
    February 15, 2017, 12:43 pm

    Trump looks at Bibi and says, “I hope he will hold off a little on the settlements.” Trump says he “can live with either 1 or 2-state solution,” whatever the two parties want. “We’re looking at Jerusalem embassy very carefully.”

    Bibi: “Two prerequisites of peace: Recognition as Jewish state &insure security for Israel. Palestinians must recognize the Jewish state, stop teaching their children to call for our destruction and they deny our connection to the land. Jews are called “Jews” because they come from Judea like Chinese are called so as they come from China. We are not colonists.
    Recommends enlisting Arab states in the peace process.

    Trump: “We have some in mind that in then past would never recognize Israel or aid the peace process. Israel will have to show some flexibility, show they really want to make a deal. We are going to play with a bigger canvas than was done in the past, to make the deal. Palestinians have to get rid of the tremendous hate they are taught as children. And they have to acknowledge Israel, a great, important country. ”

    Bibi: “Trump has pointed out Iranian ballistic missiles; those missiles have writing on them saying Israel must be destroyed. Make HeZbullah pay for its actions. We and the Arab states can roll back Iranian threat. ”

    Trump: (Re questioning sharp rise in anti-semitism in US attendant his election): “We have very divided nation. So many friends, a daughter, son in law, 3 beautiful Jewish kids; U will see a lot of love.”

    Bibi: Settlements don’t drive the conflict, not the core of it. Recognition of Israel, and Israel’s strong control of the entire area for security guarantee are the two prerequisites for peace. Now he’s talking about how long he’s known Jared Kushner & family, and he knows Trump very well too.” (Camera pans to Jared, sitting up front, who smile.)

  3. Citizen
    February 15, 2017, 12:49 pm

    Remarks from Outnumbered panel: Lot of love in the room, he wants Israel to slow down on settlements. Bibi said when they talk about two states, as Bibi said, are they talking about another Costa Rica, or another Iran next to Israel? Didn’t know Trump had a relation with the Kushners. (McCain’s daughter LOL–if true ,shows how she knows nothing, yet she whips of hasbara rhetoric constantly, as the whole panel does). More after the commercial break…

  4. Citizen
    February 15, 2017, 1:00 pm

    Outnumbered panel: Liberal media wants to impugn the Trump Administration by blaring out “the 2-state solution is dead,” but Trump-Bibi down-played such, as Bibi called it, labeling that says nothing at all.

  5. Citizen
    February 15, 2017, 1:04 pm

    Fox News followup show: POTUS not necessarily seeking a two state solution, or a one-state solution; he’s seeking peace, i.e., the solution both party’s like. Bibi said he wants to deal with substance, not labels.

  6. Citizen
    February 15, 2017, 1:09 pm

    More: Yakoff Katz, Jerusalem Post: US & Israel on same page re Iran. OTOH, Trump told Bibi he wants him to be flexible, and not just keep doing settlements. They agree Egypt, SA, Jordan, some of the small oil Arab states will be brought in because Palestinians won’t do a direct negotiation with only Israel, want to use indirect involvement from international community. Israel wants to keep the Golan Heights, and want US to stop weapons transfers to enemies of Israel

  7. eljay
    February 15, 2017, 1:34 pm

    Trump says peace deal will ultimately be up to Israelis, Palestinians

    … “The United States will encourage a peace [deal] and really a great peace deal,” Trump said. “We will be working on it very, very diligently. But it is the parties themselves who must directly negotiate such an agreement.”

    The Israelis are going to have to “show some flexibility” and “hold back on settlements for a little bit,” said Trump, adding he believes Israeli officials “really want to make a deal.” He said the Palestinians will have to acknowledge Israel.

    “There’s no way a deal can be made if they’re not ready to acknowledge a very, very great and important country. And I also believe that we’ll have other players at a very high level, and it might make it easier on the Palestinians and Israel to get something done,” Trump said. …

    When asked about continued U.S. support for a two-state solution instead of one state, Trump said, “I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one.” …

    It seems fitting that Trump’s “ultimate deal” involves the summary execution of justice, accountability and equality in I-P.

  8. bryan
    February 15, 2017, 1:54 pm

    “Proponents of the bill celebrated the continuation of settlement and the expanding of Israeli sovereignty over the West; opponents mourned the legalizing of seizure of Palestinian land that further clarifies the death of a Palestinian land and of the possibility of a peace deal.”

    Israeli sovereignty over the West goes far beyond those feeble assertions about the influence of a lobby. Has Netanyahu really grabbed May, Merkel and Trump, as well as the lands to the east of Israel’s borders?

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