Are great opportunities or disappointments on the horizon? At the moment, both Israel and the Palestinians are wondering. Trump’s visit to Israel was announced yesterday for May 22, while his first meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will take place at the White House next Wednesday – the day after Israel celebrates its 69thI ndependence Day.
Obama decided to visit Israel solely during his second term in the White House, but Trump will come immediately, on the 22nd of May. The visit indicates just how important the Jewish State is for the current U.S. President. During his first term, Obama came to the Middle East and visited Saudi Arabia and Egypt while bypassing Jerusalem. Trump will also visit moderate Sunni states in May, but it’s clear that doing so in the context of an official visit to Israel sends the political message of seeking to achieve a new regional balance – one in which Israel can be the protagonist. His engagement is underscored by the fact that his daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner will accompany him and the visit will coincide around the time of the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War, therefore ideally with the flags of the stars and strips waving alongside those of white and blue.
What should we expect from these meetings since Trump has stated that he would love to go down in history as the American president who finally succeeded to make an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal?
The pot of good intentions boils in a sequel of endless meetings, but then again the issue is complicated. Abu Mazen who will pay a visit to the White House in a just a few day, has the backing of a population who has been brought up to believe – today an overwhelming 44 percent – that in 25 years Israel will no longer exist. Abu Mazen has stated his readiness to engage in peace negotiations, but it’s difficult to understand just what he’s actually prepared to negotiate after many refusals of very reasonable proposals, and when the majority of his people have been indoctrinated through textbooks, TV and newspapers that their main goal is to obliterate the Jews with terrorist attacks. Moreover, the Palestinian Authority exalts very concretely the figure of the “martyr” by giving fixed salaries to not only prisoners who have committed acts of terror against Israel, but also to their families. Netanyahu recently put this issue on the table during an interview with Fox News by publicly urging Trump to hold Abbas to account for the use of international funds for backing terrorism.
In these hours, the Palestinians are talking about a possible platform that willput them in a position in which they don’t have to give up the benefits they received by the Obama administration, namely that of guaranteeing the precondition of 1967 border and a total settlement freeze. The response consists in handling things in the business like fashion Trump prefers with a “quid pro quo” where Trump agrees to delay moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem in exchange with stopping playing around with the completely unrealistic preventive concession that Israel should return to its pre-1967 borders; asking that the settlements are today simply not expanded; to accept a regional conference in which Palestinians for the first time agree to become part of an anti-Iranian front and accept discussing the regional situation realistically, including ISIS’s violence and the question of continued belligerence by a large part of the Palestinian world – namely Hamas – against Israel with destructive weapons such as missiles.
In short, the goal for the Americans at present – after the era of the Obama administration’s dismission of the theme of insecure borders – could be that of bringing the Palestinians back to the table in order to partake in more realistic talks. We read in these last few hours that Ronald Lauder, the President of the World Jewish Congress, is suggesting Trump should push forward because, according to him, the Palestinians still want to reach an agreement. But the truth is that Palestinians’ attitudes toward Israel and Jews have deep ideological roots: a vigorous Arab rejection against Israel itself and a fervent anti-Semitism that was inherited by the founder of the “Palestinian cause,” Mufti Haj Amin Al Husseini, who sought and obtained Hitler’s alliance. Sure, Abbas wants to prove that that’s all in the past, but the key issue in relation to his credibility is to end the transfer of U.S. funds from being transferred into the hands terrorists and their families. May be Lauder had some assurance about that.
Translation by Amy K. Rosenthal
This article originally appeared in slightly different form in Italian in Il Giornale (April 29, 2017)