May 22, 2018

Trump's Middle East peace dilemma

Photo: Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images

The White House "peace team" has essentially finished drafting the administration's Middle East peace plan, but White House officials told me the plan will not be presented during the month of Ramadan. Only when it ends — three weeks from now — will there be a decision regarding if, when and how to launch it.

The bottom line: That decision will be made by President Trump, and a White House official tells me they'll wait until "the time and circumstances are right." For a number of reasons, it's unclear when that might be.

  • Palestinian leadership is boycotting the White House over Trump's Jerusalem embassy move and is not willing to accept peace talks moderated by the U.S. Meanwhile, the Palestinians are campaigning against Israel and the U.S. at the United Nations.
  • The U.S. dilemma also has to do with Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu is under police investigation and more interested in dealing with the Iranian threat than the peace process. Netanyahu's right-wing coalition has very little appetite for peace plans which include concessions to the Palestinians.
  • The volatile situation in Gaza and the fear of further escalation only deepens the White House dilemma. Trump's advisers are trying to come up with a path for easing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza before or as part of launching the peace plan, but for now it is yet to be found.
  • And if that wasn't enough, the fact that Palestinian President Abbas was admitted to the hospital this week for the third time in seven days served as a reminder that that Abbas is nearing the end of his political career and might lack the willingness or legitimacy to make historic decisions regarding a peace plan.

The latest:

  • The "peace team" — Senior adviser Jared Kushner, Special envoy Jason Greenblatt and U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman — discussed the peace plan last week with Netanyahu, a day before the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem.
  • A White House official told me: "We continue to seek ways to find  a way forward on Gaza. It is extremely challenging because of Hamas' activities, and none of our partners have any serious plans that work while Hamas continues its behavior in Gaza. Fixing the situation in Gaza is important whether the peace plan is successful or not. There is too much suffering caused in Gaza because of Hamas. We believe that the Arab world knows that Hamas is responsible for the dire situation in Gaza, and we would hope that they begin to publicly put the responsibility for the violence on Hamas." 

White House officials emphasize that regardless of the difficulties, Trump is still committed to getting a peace deal. Trump's advisers think both Israelis and Palestinians will like parts of the U.S. peace plan and hate other parts of it. White House officials think the plan is still relevant and that only after it is presented they will be able to determine whether their effort to promote Middle East peace is over or just beginning. 

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