A blueprint the White House is rolling out to resolve the decades-long conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians is as much about politics as it is about peace.
President Donald Trump said he would likely release his long-awaited Mideast peace plan a little before separate meetings this coming week with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main political rival Benny Gantz.
The Washington get-togethers offer political bonuses for Trump and the prime minister, but Trump’s opponents are doubting the viability of any plan since there’s been little-to-no input from the Palestinians, who have rejected it before its release.
“It’s entirely about politics,” Michael Koplow, policy director of the Israel Policy Forum, said about Tuesday’s meeting. “You simply can’t have a serious discussion about an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan and only invite one side to come talk about it. This is more about the politics inside Israel and inside the U.S. than it is about any real efforts to get these two sides to an agreement.”
Jared Kushner, a Trump adviser and the president’s son-in-law, has been the architect for the plan for nearly three years. He’s tried to persuade academics, lawmakers, former Mideast negotiators, Arab governments and special interest groups not to reject his fresh approach outright.
People familiar with the administration’s thinking believe the release will have benefits even if it never gets Palestinian buy-in and ultimately fails. According to these people, the peace team believes that if Israeli officials are open to the plan and Arab nations do not outright reject it, the proposal could help improve broader Israeli-Arab relations.
For years, the prospect of improved ties between Israel and its Arab neighbours had been conditioned on a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But the administration believes that a change in regional dynamics — due mainly to rising antipathy to Iran — will boost Israel’s standing with not only Egypt and Jordan, which already have peace deals with the Jewish state, but also Saudi Arabia and the smaller Gulf nations, these people say.
There have been signs of warming between Israel and the Gulf states, including both public displays and secret contacts, and the administration sees an opening for even greater co-operation after the plan is released, according to these people.
Trump, for his part, told reporters on Air Force One this week that “It’s a plan that really would work.” He said he spoke to the Palestinians “briefly,” without elaborating.
Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a spokesman for the Western-backed Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, says that’s not true.
“There were no talks with the U.S. administration — neither briefly nor in detail,” he said. “The Palestinian position is clear and consistent in its rejection of Trump’s decisions regarding Jerusalem and other issues, and everything related to the rejected deal.”
Abbas ended contacts with the administration after it recognized disputed Jerusalem as Israel’s capital two years ago. The Palestinians’ anger mounted as Trump repeatedly broken with the international consensus around solving the conflict and took actions seen as biased toward Israel’s right-wing government.