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When Trump first started to campaign, his statements about the Israel-Palestinian conflict were contradictory and unclear. I think he was trying to find his footing on this complicated and controversial subject. If we look at the journey we’ve all taken with him, we might draw some interesting projections about the future. I’d like to reflect on some of the highlights of his candidacy and his time as President regarding his actions on Israel and the Palestinians.
During his candidacy, he told the Republican National Convention regarding the peace process, “I alone can fix it.” But The Atlantic pointed out:
…the peace process is not a matter of willpower, and it’s not a matter of one person, even the U.S. president. Trump seemed to finally start to grasp just how advanced the level of difficulty on this is while giving remarks with Netanyahu later on Monday night [May 2017].
‘I’ve heard it’s one of the toughest deals of all,’ he said. ‘But I have a feeling that we’re going to get there. Eventually.’
Trump then sent Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, the president’s lead envoy in the Middle East, to discuss peace talks, first in June, then in August 2017. He asked them to focus on the fight against extremism, the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and future economic steps as well as plans for security, stability, and prosperity. No plans for arranging talks came out of those meetings, but Kushner and Greenblatt stated they were working on a peace plan with Dina Powell, Deputy National Security Advisor and David Friedman, Ambassador to Israel. I also suspect that they reinforced Trump’s understanding that negotiating peace was going to be very difficult.
The next major step by Trump just happened in December 2017: he recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. (Please note he didn’t “declare” this truth, but simply acknowledged it.) Trump said:
‘I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. I’ve judged this course of action to be in the best interest of the United States of America and the pursuit of peace between Israel and the Palestinians,’ he said from the White House.
The president said that since 1995, when Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act, his predecessors had delayed implementing the act because of fears that it would harm efforts to achieve a peace agreement in the Middle East.
But, he added, ‘after more than two decades of waivers, we are no closer to a lasting peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. It would be folly to assume that repeating the exact same formula would now produce a different or better result.’
Trump’s decision to make this statement after more than 20 years of stalling by other presidents indicates a shift in his perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I think he realizes that delays in that decision have contributed nothing to the peace process. I also believe he recognizes that the chance of the Palestinians coming to the table and making any concessions is highly unlikely. And finally, I think he is making a statement to the world that dealing with the reality of an intransigent Palestinian leadership, and the right of Israel to exist and claim its homeland should be on everyone’s radar screen.
In the meantime, the Palestinians have not stopped their terrorist activities, particularly from Gaza. Congress created the Taylor Force Act, which was intended to stop our indirect funding of terrorism. The original bill had two major factors: that funding to the Palestinians would be stopped if they did not 1) recognize Israel’s right to exist, and 2) commit to stopping the payment to family members of terrorists. On December 7, the bill passed the House — with both of those critical factors missing — and has been sent to the Senate. It’s unclear whether those points will be restored or ignored.
I find it interesting that with the passing of what might be a feckless bill, President Trump authorized Nikki Haley’s threat to withdraw funds from the UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East). Caroline Glick reports on the significance of this potential action:
If Iran is Hamas’s greatest state sponsor, UNRWA is its partner. UNRWA is headquartered in Gaza. It is the UN’s single largest agency. It has more than 11,500 employees in Gaza alone. UNRWA’s annual budget is in excess of $1.2 billion. Several hundred million each year is spent in Gaza. The US is UNRWA’s largest funder. In 2016, it transferred more than $368m. to UNRWA.
For the past decade, the Center for Near East Policy Research has copiously documented how UNRWA in Gaza is not an independent actor. Rather it is an integral part of Hamas’s regime in Gaza.
She also reported:
Missiles, rockets and mortars have been stored in and fired from UNRWA schools and clinics.
UNRWA teachers and students have served as human shields for Hamas missile launches against Israel.
UNRWA ambulances have been used to ferry weapons, including mortars, and terrorists.
UNRWA officials have served as Hamas mouthpieces in their propaganda war against Israel.
It sounds like Trump has figured out the potential of a peace plan between Israel and the Palestinians is not good. He has spoken to Netanyahu and Abbas; he has received assessments from Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, who met with both groups and their leaders; he has watched the biased behavior of the United Nations toward Israel and the Palestinians; he has seen the rejection of Israel’s policies and the pandering to Palestinians from countries all over the world; and the Palestinians recently rejected the support of the US in the peace process. It seems pretty clear: Donald Trump is developing a plan for the US role with Israel and the Palestinians and he isn’t looking for permission to actualize his goals.
What do you think?