from politico recommended by george soros
OPINION | WASHINGTON AND THE WORLD
The Real Goal of Trump’s Middle East Plan
It’s not peace. It’s power.
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 28: U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu participate in a joint statement in the East Room of the White House on January 28, 2020 in Washington, DC. The news conference was held to announce the Trump administration's plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images
By ROBERT MALLEY and AARON DAVID MILLER
01/28/2020 05:39 PM EST
Robert Malley is president and CEO of the International Crisis Group. He was the White House coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa and Gulf Region under President Obama.
Aaron David Miller is a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment and a former State Department Middle East analyst and negotiator in Republican and Democratic administrations.
The Trump administration’s long-awaited and ill-named peace plan has many objectives, but making peace isn’t among them.
Neither is jump-starting negotiations, or nudging the parties toward compromise, or even enshrining implicit, private understandings in the hope Israelis and Palestinians might eventually publicly espouse them—each one of which, as we know from successful and unsuccessful experience, has been featured as the goal of past American plans.
The motives behind a document conceived without any Palestinian input, unveiled on the same day as an important vote in the Israeli parliament on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s immunity, and less than a year before Americans vote for their next president, are at once more mundane and more grandiose.
The mundane reasons, first. It’s hard not to see in the timing an effort by Trump to help Netanyahu in Israel’s elections six weeks from now, and, more than that, an effort by Trump to help Trump—to shore up support from evangelicals and conservative Republicans as he heads into his reelection campaign.
Critics argue that the administration ought to have waited for the outcome of the March Israeli elections and the formation of a new government, but that misses the point. To wait that long would mean waiting until May, if not longer should elections once again end inconclusively, which means taking the risk of not releasing it at all. Besides, the rollout provides a welcome distraction from the impeachment trial, allowing the president to claim he is dedicated to important matters of state as Democrats fiddle with crass politics.
Whether this ends up really helping either Netanyahu or Trump is unclear, although that too is beside the point. The Trump team believes the plan will help both its campaign and Netanyahu’s, whether they are right in that regard or not. Some right-wing constituencies may balk at the suggestion that this could lead to a Palestinian state—although that would occur well into the future and only if and when the Palestinians meet a series of unrealistic conditions. And even then, any putative state would be so fragmented, disjointed, surrounded by Israel and subject to Israeli security control that it would be at best a state in name only. Those critics likewise may be angry at the suggestion that the Palestinians could have a capital in East Jerusalem—although the parts of the city that the U.S. plan contemplates forming this capital are of such minor significance that most people would hardly equate them with Jerusalem itself. In theory, hard-line Israelis could also protest the notion that there will be no new settlements for years—but even that constraint is essentially meaningless, since the plan already munificently grants to Israel all the West Bank territory in which it has wished to build settlements.
In short, this is a plan that gives Israel everything it wants, concedes to Palestinians everything Israel does not care for, tries to buy off the Palestinians with the promise of $50 billion in assistance that will never see the light of day, and then calls it peace.
So a politically expedient move intended to boost Trump and Netanyahu’s election chances, yes. But without any broader implication? Not so fast.
The ideas put forward by the administration may not tell us anything much about the future of Middle East peace, other than to make more plain what was already manifest—that the notion of a viable two-state solution increasingly is a thing of the past, and that the de facto annexation of West Bank territory may soon become de jure. Israelis for the most part will accept the proposal, Palestinians of all stripes will reject it and Arab states will utter bland pronouncements designed to neither upset a U.S. president whose reprisals they dread nor outrage their public opinions whose moods they fear. But those ideas tell us quite a bit about the unfolding nature of Trump’s foreign policy as an ever-expanding and ever-more aggressive attempt to erase traditional rules and impose new ones.
A line can be drawn from the decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, to the killing of Qassem Soleimani, to this attempt to fundamentally rewrite the parameters of an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement at the Palestinians’ expense. Each reflects an administration increasingly confident in its way, indifferent to the views of others, enamored with the exercise of its own power, certain that it can change reality by the mere fact of enforcing its will. Each decision feeds on the prior ones, as the administration is emboldened by the absence of serious, immediate backlash to any of its precedent-shattering steps.
It was warned that transferring the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem could prompt massive anti-American protests in the Arab and Muslim worlds. The move was greeted with the equivalent of a diplomatic shrug. The administration was then cautioned that killing Soleimani would trigger dangerous Iranian retaliation, potentially leading to yet another costly U.S. war. Thirty Iranian ballistic missiles but no American deaths later, Trump’s team can yet again depict its critics as unduly alarmist.
There is a countervailing view, of course. Moving the embassy undermined any remaining pretense that the U.S. administration could play a mediating role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As for Iran’s reaction to Soleimani’s killing, it may have been containable, but when is the last time a state launched a salvo of missiles on an American military base, and when is the last time the U.S. failed to respond? It is likely that neither Tehran nor its myriad militant nonstate allies have said their last word; rockets aimed at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad remind us of that. But much of that is conjecture, and for the most part the more serious costs that are mentioned lie in the future. For the Trump administration, speculation on what might lie ahead tomorrow is immaterial, for it discounts the transformational effect of what it has done now. The administration traffics in what is palpable; it deals exclusively with the here and now.
So, when Palestinian indignation at a plan that runs roughshod over their aspirations is not matched by any concrete action, when Arab states react in muted tones to a proposal that negates any Muslim claim to Jerusalem’s holy sites, when European governments at best mouth well-worn support for an increasingly illusory two-state solution, the lesson the Trump administration will learn is that it can get away with what it does as long as it has the boldness to do it. Impunity will breed an encore.
It is easy to condemn the Trump administration for lacking a strategy. Easy, but wrong.
The Trump administration’s strategy is unfolding before our eyes, the sum total of every new step it takes. It reflects the Trump team’s conviction that power unexercised is power wasted, that power ought to be used to break up the ways of the past, and that past presidents spent far too much time fretting about how America’s rivals would react to our actions when America’s rivals ought to worry about how America will react to theirs. The collective bill at some point will come due, and it could be steep. Until then, the world will be dealing with an increasingly unshackled administration. Prospects for a fair and viable Israeli-Palestinian peace will be just one of its many casualties.
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