Editorial

Time for U.S. Pressure

Contrary to the initial euphoria of the Israeli right, it turns out that Trump’s policy is not fundamentally different from that of his predecessor, President Barack Obama.

President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a rally at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville, Ky., Monday, March 20, 2017.
Andrew Harnik/AP

U.S. President Donald Trump frequently mentions his desire to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as if it were the deal of his life. He is dropping signals that may attest to his determination. In a message that the U.S. lawyer Alan Dershowitz conveyed to Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump praised the prime minister and added that “the time is ripe for a deal” between Israel and the Palestinians.

Presidential envoy Jason Greenblatt gave Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas the impression that Trump is serious about reaching an agreement, as he did to Arab leaders who met with him on the sidelines of last week’s Arab League summit in Jordan.

Trump is scheduled to meet with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi on Tuesday, where the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its resolution will be a key focus. Trump has specified to Netanyahu the limits of his flexibility regarding Israeli construction in the territories. Apparently, building will be allowed within settlements, but not beyond.

Contrary to the initial euphoria of the Israeli right, it turns out that Trump’s policy is not fundamentally different from that of his predecessor, President Barack Obama. Arab states affirmed their support for this policy by ratifying the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative and reiterating their commitment to normalizing relations with Israel in exchange for a withdrawal from the territories.

It also seems that Netanyahu is not deaf to the voices issuing from Washington; he acknowledged that no final understanding has been reached with the White House over Israeli construction in the territories and on how to advance the peace process.

These signals and partial declarations, however, are insufficient to conclude that conditions are ripe for negotiations or for making a “deal,” as Trump would put it. In the absence of an initiative from either the Palestinians or from Israel, and with the two parties relegated to being observers from afar, as if the conflict were not between them, Trump will have to intervene actively in order to demonstrate the “ripeness” of the circumstances.

The polite diplomacy of the Obama administration, intensive as it was, was a failure. Trump, on the other hand, has so far exhibited a blunt, loud, aggressive and threatening form of diplomacy. There’s no guarantee that his style will help to resolve the conflict, but perhaps that is what is needed now in the area of diplomatic experimentation.

Israeli supporters of the peace process have given up on the possibility of American deus emerging from a machine, magic formula in hand. But perhaps a U.S. president who boasts of his love of Israel, is equipped with business acumen and unburdened by the kind of opposition in Congress that Obama faced, can succeed where serious, eloquent statesmen have failed.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.