President Trump’s new national security advisor, John Bolton, started work on Monday, and his choice for secretary of state, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, is on Capitol Hill this week for his confirmation hearings, and their agenda’s are already brimming. The president is mulling over – privately as well as publicly on Twitter — his response to the Syrian poison gas attack on its own citizens last week, deteriorating relations with Russia, trade war with China and a looming deadline a month from today for recertifying the Iran nuclear deal. Then there’s the little issue of the Mueller investigation.
With all that on the presidential plate, Trump may have to delay the unveiling of his “detailed blueprint” for Middle East peace. No date has been set but it was expected to come later this spring – after the new Jerusalem embassy opens and (if and when) he meets with North Korea’s Kim Jung Un.
Drafting the peace plan so far had been in the hands of his son-in-law and his property and bankruptcy lawyers, a trio of inexperienced Orthodox Jews whose politics tend to the right of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
By all accounts Trump has left the peace initiative to Jared Kushner and his team and has typically taken little if any interest in details.
As he is showing on so many issues – Jerusalem, North Korea, trade, tariffs, immigration and now Syria – this president is not known to be one for careful planning, consultation and consensus building. He prefers to act on what his gut tells him rather than what his advisers and experts say. He wants a quick fix and bragging rights, and in case anything goes wrong, he’s ready to blame anyone and everyone else. Pompeo and Bolton are unlikely to leave the peace process to Team Jared. Bolton, closely associated with the Israeli far right, would be especially inclined – for both policy and turf reasons — to want to take over the project.
Palestinians have signaled their rejection in advance, but there appears to be growing pressure from their Arab brethren to quit kvetching and making unrealistic demands and start getting serious about cutting a deal with Israel.
That shift in attitude was apparent in the mild reaction to Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and in the current Gaza border confrontations sparked by Hamas.
If you think the Trump presidency is chaotic now, you ain’t seen nothing’ yet.
While Trump is unencumbered by ideology, intellectual curiosity or convictions beyond his own personal gratification, both of his new hires are smart, experienced, ideologues and battle-tested veterans of turf wars and bureaucratic backbiting. They are unlikely to abandon a choice piece of turf like the Middle East to Kushner, who just lost his top secret clearance, or, for that matter, to each other.
Bolton and Pompeo may want to take over and rewrite any plan the Kushner team has been working on. And you can bet their plans, while pleasing Israeli settlers and nationalists, will be even less likely to bring the Palestinians to the table.
Bolton has said, “the two-state solution is dead” and suggested a “three state solution” that would have Egypt retake control of Gaza and Jordan most of the West Bank that Israel doesn’t want. The Palestinians, he has said, have no right to self-determination.
That is a prescription for more conflict, not peace.
There seems little point in publishing a peace plan when the leaders on both sides of the conflict are in failing health, Abbas physically and Netanyahu politically. And everyone else seems to be declaring it dead on arrival.
But it is worth remembering that Israel has the world’s highest resurrection rate.