Opinion

Trump’s Trying to Reset the Israel-Palestinian Peace Process. It’s an Optical Illusion

As much as Trump tries to alter the rules of the game, the refugees won’t disappear, Jerusalem will continue to be a core issue, and the settlements will determine the map of the borders

A woman walks next to a wall with graffiti showing U.S. President Trump with a footprint on his face and Arabic that reads, "For Jerusalem and the right of return we resist," in Gaza City, May 2018
Khalil Hamra,AP

Breaking the rules is sometimes desirable, especially when the target is a failed idee fixe. An example of the latter is the Israeli idee fixe that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is unsolvable because Israel has a radical right-wing government supported by an Arab-hating public that’s inflamed by fear-mongering over the idea of creating a Palestinian state, which will inevitably be a terrorist state. Alternatively, there’s the claim that there’s no Palestinian partner in any case, so it doesn’t matter what Israel’s government does; even if it were a traitorous leftist government, the Palestinians would thwart any opportunity for peace, just as they have in the past.

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This idea has now hooked up with the rule-breaking doctrine hatched in the feverish brain of U.S. President Donald Trump, under which what was in the past is not what will be. Trump is doing a reboot and erasing the past. Jerusalem will become the capital of Israel, the number of Palestinian refugees will shrink to half a million, the United Nation’s aid agency for Palestinian refugees will disappear and the settlements won’t be an obstacle to peace.

The problem is that America’s effort to change the rules of the game are related solely to the method of resolving the conflict – not to its substance. The Americans seek to reduce the number of core problems from five to three or even two, while ignoring the fact that all these core problems are intertwined with each other.

Ostensibly, Israel should be happy that Trump has removed Jerusalem from the agenda and plans to make the refugee problem evaporate. But Israel is actually the one that has built a defensive wall against the diplomatic process, in the form of an increasing number of core issues that need to be resolved. It is also the one that has insisted that there are no partial solutions, and that there will be no accord unless everything is agreed upon.

Thus, even if mapping the borders and determining the status of the holy sites were the only core issues remaining on the list after the American filtering process – there’s no way to solve them without determining, for instance, the status of the settlements. And it’s impossible to reach any agreement on the settlements without an agreement on the holy sites, because the settlers and their supporters are the ones who are dictating Israel’s national-religious agenda.

Therefore, even if one tries, despite the difficulties, to seriously consider Trump’s proposal, which relies on breaking the previous rules, it’s impossible to see it as giving rise to a new and original idea. It doesn’t obligate either Israel or the Palestinians to make substantive concessions; it won’t change the composition of Israeli politics or society; and it offers no solution for Palestinian national aspirations, aside from the president’s idiotic warning that one day, the prime minister of Israel will be named Mohammed.

The optical illusion of demolishing two core issues, Jerusalem and the Palestinians, is like the blow Trump dealt Iran by quitting the nuclear deal. In both, destruction is the main result – or to be more accurate, the only one.

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But along with these acts of destruction, Trump is fomenting another revolution: He himself has become a partner instead of a mediator, thereby shattering a long-standing axiom of U.S. policy. In so doing, he has freed Israel and the Palestinians of the burden of the diplomatic process, because Trump himself is the process.

Both sides of the conflict are now trapped in a waiting game, for the deal of the century or the next damaging blow from the White House. They’re exempt from having to make any response, because there aren’t even any pieces to pick up.

Ultimately, Trump has launched a mighty kick at the air. The refugees won’t disappear, Jerusalem will continue to be a core issue, and the settlements will determine the map of the borders.

Even those who think the Trump circus has destroyed any chance for peace can calm down. The idea of breaking the rules hasn’t replaced the idee fixe of Israeli rejectionism. The latter remains in force.