This column is addressed to my friends in the States, the people who, like me, count themselves among that small but influential demographic of liberal Jews who are seriously and deeply engaged with their religious life. As a group, we despise Donald Trump and everything he stands for. We think that he’s causing incalculable damage to the United States of America and that his personal conduct, past and present, is completely unfitting for a man holding any political office, not to mention the highest office in the land.
And, yet, I say to you, my friends, you should keep your hearts open to the possibility that not only will things between Israel and the Palestinians not get worse in the wake of Trump’s Jerusalem embassy announcement, but that a peace agreement may be in the not-too-distant future.
Simply put, the Trump/Kushner strategy has a logic to it. And, after years of US leaders basically pursuing the same peace strategy, it represents a change — and, whenever you have a long-term impasse, any change, no matter how destructive looking at first, has the possibility of breaking the logjam.
What is the Trump/Kushner strategy? Its core assumption is that the leaders of the Sunni world have become so obsessed with their conflict with (Shiite) Iran that they are ready to recognize the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as mostly a source of instability within their own ranks — a distraction that’s sucking energy away from focusing on the real enemy, Iran.
If this is true, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, etc., may be willing to strong arm the Palestinians into accepting an agreement (one that will likely, in the end, not look too much different than the agreement that Bill Clinton almost helped make reality back in the summer of 2000 before Yasser Arafat put the kibosh on it by launching the second Intifada). (The second core assumption of this strategy is that the only way to bring the Palestinian leadership to the table in the face of their people’s intractable resistance to any agreement is to give their leadership some outside ‘bully’ — in this case Saudi Arabia and the rest of the mainstream Sunni leadership — to blame for forcing them to accept a deal that seems bad to them.)
So far, this probably sounds to you like Bibi Netanyahu’s dream. But, if it comes to pass, it will probably feel more like a nightmare to the Israeli Prime Minister — because, the other side of the Trump/Kushner strategy has to be the United States strong-arming Israel to accept concessions that will be deeply painful (like maybe giving up places like Efrat in the West Bank that have for decades effectively functioned as suburbs of Jerusalem and/or like accepting international governance over the Jerusalem Old City).
Then, Trump can say like a powerful father to the dependent child, “look how much I love you? I even moved my embassy to your city despite universal condemnation throughout the world. I give you a huge allowance of money and weapons. I made you this great deal with the mean kid you’ve been fighting with down the street all these years. So just shake hands and take the deal I’ve put together for you. What do you think, kid, that this relationship is a democracy? I’m not just your dad, I’m the most powerful man in the world. If you don’t like it, you can just get out of this house and try making it on the street without me. Good luck with that!”