Like most political news junkies, I’ve been keeping a close eye on reactions and statements following last week’s conference in Bahrain which Jared Kushner has unsurprisingly hailed as “a tremendous success.”
Frankly, I find the whole thing rather unsettingly bizarre.
That feeling is compounded when I read that at the Israel Hayom Forum in Jerusalem yesterday (held partially to fête visiting former US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley) mega-donor Miriam Adelson floated the idea of grafting a “Book of Trump” onto the Bible. (Perhaps the Americans have understood that even the speculative Golani Trumpville wouldn’t be enough to satisfy his ego).
For one, there’s the fact that the Bahraini summit which was intended to kickstart the “deal of the century” — beginning with the unveiling of its economic component — saw the participation of neither party to the conflict (save, of course, for the attendance of a minor Israeli delegation of business-people and journalists).
Additionally, there’s the fact that the Palestinians supposed to be bought out by the $50 economic woo stridently rejected the idea of receiving the aid even before it had commenced.
Which begs the question how the extensive infrastructural stimulus package outlined in “Peace to Prosperity” can ever be executed when its intended benefactors plan on refusing to cooperate with it.
But more than that, even those as unschooled in the art of international negotiations as the author surely realize that an interlocutor must enjoy some measure of trust from both sides to stand some chance of being able to successfully lend their “good offices” to resolve the dispute between the parties.
The grisly history of the conflict itself underscores that point.
Israel’s poisoned relations with the United Nations (UN) on the political level has surely not facilitated the work of its humanitarian missions in the West Bank and Gaza nor proved conducive to helping it successfully convey its security challenges to the other UN agencies monitoring its borders with Lebanon and Syria. Nor was the peace process quite as moribund during the Obama administration as it is today.
Blatant Partisanship Helps Neither Side
The above is why I find it remarkable that Stephen Greenblatt, in interview with CNN, thought it wise to state that he has not “found anything to criticize” about Israel’s relations with the Palestinian Authority (PA).
After repeatedly (and often justifiably) “slamming” both factions of Palestinian society for everything from corruption to human rights abuses, one might think that it may have been more diplomatically prudent had Greenblatt simply evaded the question to lend at least some semblance of impartiality to his mandate as Special Envoy for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The truth, however, is that Greenblatt’s rather bald bias towards Israel neither exceeds nor expands upon that evoked by the other two major US figures attempting to broker a deal with the Palestinians: Trump’s other special advisor Jared Kushner and the incumbent US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman.
Friedman, in an interview with the New York Times, recently weakly endorsed Netanyahu’s electoral promise to annex part of the West Bank, stating that he believes Israel “has the right to retain some, but unlikely all” of the territory.
An anonymous White House official quickly poured cold water on the Ambassador’s comments, commenting that “no plan for unilateral annexation by Israel of any portion of the West Bank has been presented by Israel to the US, nor is it under discussion.”
The US Ambassador is also an outspoken supporter of the settlement enterprise and was president of the American Friends of Bet El Yeshiva Center non-profit when it donated $12,000 to the religious center on the settlement.
When talking about Israel, Stephen Greenblatt has termed former Transport Minister’s rather fantastical plan to build a railway across the Middle East as a “railway for peace.” (It must be pointed out that, at the time of writing, the high-speed Jerusalem to Tel Aviv railway, which runs a distance of less than 60 KM., remains unfinished).
When talking about the Palestinians, by comparison, Greenblatt has described their situation as one which “they caused.”
In fact Greenblatt’s praise of the condolence visit of an unofficial Palestinian coexistence group, who visited the grieving family of Ori Ansbacher, might well be the only kind words he has ever had for Palestinians or the administration in Ramallah.
Besides attempting to thrust an unwanted economic stimulus package on the Palestinians, Kusher has proven a little more tactful and measured, stating that the as-of-yet unreleased political component of the plan should ultimately lead to some measure of Palestinian self-governance.
However, from everybody’s perspective but their own, it’s obvious whose side the American triumvirate are on.
It’s also obvious that the effusive reciprocation from the Israeli side has been equally without measure. It’s a dynamic that hasn’t gone unnoticed in Washington, with former CIA chief Leon Panetta telling Army Radio last week that the bilateral ties seem to have “gone overboard.”
Yair Netanyahu, a self-appointed representative of the Israeli people (and arguably the unofficial interim Foreign Minister) recently told a US. conservative news network that the American president s universally regarded as a “rock star” in Israel. And of course, Benjamin Netanyahu’s theatrical unveiling of the sign for an unfunded, unplanned town in the Golan, to be named in Trump’s honor, drew international attention.
Has the US Permanently Relinquished its Status as a Broker?
It may come as a surprise that, despite the above, I consider myself towards the right of the political spectrum when it comes to Israel and the Palestinian conflict.
I believe that the Palestinian leadership’s century-long tradition of rejectionism means that the Americans’ plan is destined for the dustbin of history.
What the negotiators of the Oslo Accords and the Peel Commission failed to achieve will not be realized by a team of negotiators that seem blissfully unaware of what many (including the author) believe to the problem which underlies the entire Arab-Israeli conflict: the existence of an independent Jewish state in what was once Arab territory. Previous fora, at the very least, enjoyed the cooperation of both parties to the conflict.
The uncomfortable truth, which Washington and its envoys have yet to internalize, is that no amount of money nor infrastructure will placate the hearts, minds, and stomachs of a leadership that quite likely does not want to peacefully coexist under the two state framework that the majority of the international community has long advocated for.
At the very least, a Palestinian leadership intent on peacefully coexisting with Israel would be foolish not to require guarantees of territorial contiguity and an end to the expansion of settlements before economic development were even discussed.
To agree to an economic stimulus package without first understanding the political contours of the “deal of the century” would be a recklessly imprudent betrayal of the interests of their own people.
The Trump triumvirate’s attempt to graft their capitalist values on a Middle Eastern religious and territorial conflict is doomed for failure.
A section of Palestinian society may be fine with the idea of putting their aspirations of statehood on the backburner while they enjoy an economic infusion, but the effect — if positive at all — would be unlikely to be anything but temporary.
If nothing else, the Palestinians have made abundantly clear that their aspirations of statehood are not up for sale.
What Could it Mean for the Future?
Israel’s decision to cooperate with the Americans’ renewed peace initiative was likely taken out of political expediency and a desire to stay on good terms with the Trump administration.
The American gestures of friendship towards Israel, such as moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, have been partially symbolic — and have not led to the influx of diplomatic missions to Jerusalem that Netanyahu had improbably hoped for.
The concessions Israel may be expected to make in exchange for the unprecedentedly favorable attitude of the US administration remain worryingly unclear.
For the current and future US administrations, Kushner and Greenblatt’s faltering efforts in Bahrain may have permanently relinquished the superpower’s ability to serve as an independent broker in the Israel-Palestinian conflict. But what other outcome could have been anticipated from a summit which even the US conveners have been warning for month “might fail.”?
The political and diplomatic fallout from Bahrain will likely take time to become clear.
Feeling spurned by the Palestinians, I envision that the US will move to implement an even more aggressively partisan policy of support towards Israel’s increasingly right-wing government, which could become unprecedentedly so depending on the outcome of the recalled election, which might see Netanyahu forming a hardline coalition with the far-right.
Despite Netanyahu’s boasts of Israel’s “unprecedented” achievements on the diplomatic stage, with only other fellow far-right nationalist governments for enthusiastic bedfellows, it could be argued that Israel’s foreign policy has never been as poorly diversified as it is now, with unknown consequences should the US relationship falter or a less pro-Israel accede to power.
An effort by an unabashedly partisan Trump meditation team to broker the world’s most intractable geopolitical conflict was destined for failure before it even began.
I just hope its consequences stop at that.