Many international figures who have met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his advisers since they returned from their successful meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House two weeks ago say the Palestinian leaders feel like they are in seventh heaven.
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Statements by Trump’s national security adviser, Herbert Raymond McMaster, on Friday evening provided an additional shot of endorphins that further increased the euphoria of government officials in Ramallah.
Briefing reporters on Trump’s upcoming trip to the Middle East, McMaster spoke mainly about Trump’s planned visit to Saudi Arabia. But almost by the way, he added that during Trump’s visit to Israel and the PA in about a week, the president is planning to express his support for the right of the Palestinians to dignity and self-determination.
McMaster’s remarks, which were an almost precise reprise of a statement Abbas himself made at a joint press conference with Trump, are another sign that the U.S. president is continuing to move ahead consistently in the direction of an expression of public support for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.
Ostensibly, there is nothing new in a statement like this from Trump. After all, the three presidents who preceded him – Clinton, Bush and Obama – also expressed support for the establishment of a Palestinian state. The latter two even defined the realization of the two-state solution as an American security interest. But only 120 days ago, Trump really was not there. Just 90 days ago, in a press conference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump was still talking about the possibility of supporting a one-state solution.
From the moment Trump entered the Oval Office on January 20, his policy on the Israeli-Palestinian issue has been in constant movement in one direction toward the traditional American policy for the past 50 years since the occupation of the West Bank in 1967. Like all his predecessors, Trump’s current policy is to oppose settlement construction, oppose annexation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and support the national aspirations of the Palestinians. It is doubtful whether Trump has delved deeply into the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but in his four months in office he has also realized that there is no real solution other than two states for two peoples.
Since January 20, the settlement lobby in the government and the media have been undergoing a painful awakening. The statements made a few months ago by many politicians on the right now sound strange and disconnected from reality. Just recall Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev’s declaration to the cameras that “Obama is history, now we have Trump” or Education Minster Naftali Bennett’s remark after the meeting between Trump and Netanyahu: “The Palestinian flag has been lowered from the flagpole.”
Regev was right about one thing. Trump is not Obama. His style is different and he comes to the Israeli-Palestinian issue from a completely different place. Nevertheless, the passion with which he talks about attaining a historic agreement between Israel and the Palestinians and the fact that he has been pushing this issue personally, shows that he is apparently no less “obsessive and messianic” than John Kerry.
Netanyahu comported himself with Trump with the same diplomatic passivity he showed in the early months of Obama’s presidency. As with Obama, Netanyahu arrived at his meeting with the new president empty-handed, without a serious diplomatic plan other than a few noncommittal mutterings about economic peace and regional initiative. Just as with Obama, Netanyahu’s passivity with Trump has again led him to a situation in which he is forced to rein in construction in the settlements and enter into a diplomatic process that the Americans, the Arabs and the Palestinians have designed for him. At this rate we can assume that Netanyahu, who over the past few months had put into mothballs his Bar-Ilan speech of support for two states for two peoples, will be airing it out very soon.
But a warning is in order. The same Donald Trump who during his election campaign announced that he would move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and then backtracked, and said he supported free construction in the settlements and then backtracked, can backtrack once again.
No one can predict whether on the first occasion that he encounters Abbas’ and Netanyahu’s well-known rejectionist stances, he will decide to abandon the issue and move on to other things. Supporters of the two-state solution in Israel would do well to learn the lesson from the anguish the settlers are experiencing these days, and lower their expectations.