Editorial

Trump Took Jerusalem Off an Empty and Nonexistent Negotiating Table

If excluding controversial issues is the tactic of an expert deal maker, we can expect others will be tossed to the same waste basket

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a meeting at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland on January 25, 2018.
NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP

The United States has removed the issue of Jerusalem from the negotiating table, U.S. President Donald Trump declared at the World Economic Forum gathering in Davos, Switzerland, on Thursday. There is nothing new in this statement, but when the U.S. president repeats it over and over, he resembles a magician whose trick didn’t work the first time and so tries it again.

The main problem with this hollow declaration is that there is no negotiating table on which the core issues can be placed or removed. There is also no U.S. plan or initiative that would present the principles on which diplomatic talks – with or without Jerusalem – can be started. Most importantly, negotiations cannot be held without the status of Jerusalem being an inseparable part of them.

If excluding controversial issues from the negotiating table is the new tactic of the man who calls himself an expert when it comes to making huge deals, we can also seemingly expect that other issues – such as the question of Palestinian refugees, the status of West Bank settlements, as well as proposed borders – will find themselves jettisoned to that same trash basket the Trump administration has provided. If this is what the “deal of the century” that Trump has been dreaming about looks like, it can be said that the United States has decided to avoid getting involved in the diplomatic process.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s delight over Trump’s position is understandable but specious. Because which American position can Netanyahu actually rely on? The one that removes the Jerusalem issue from the negotiations? Or that the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital doesn’t define the city’s final borders? Both have been expressed by this president, one contradicting the other.

For his part, Netanyahu did say there is no substitute for the United States “as the honest broker, as a facilitator” in peace talks. But even he surely recognizes that evading the core issues not only cannot result in negotiations, but can be expected to increase the risk of conflict with the Palestinians.

Unilaterally determining diplomatic policy, threatening the Palestinian Authority with a withdrawal of aid and a significant funding cut for the UN Relief and Works Agency are the tools Trump is using to bury the diplomatic process. These are deceptive acts, creating the illusion that Trump is working for Israel’s benefit, safeguarding its security and, in the process, laying the groundwork for a peace process.

But the opposite is true. Through his incomprehensible, aimless conduct, Trump is letting Israel alone absorb the destructive consequences of his policy. A responsible Israeli government must understand the danger the U.S. president is laying at its doorstep and immediately come up with an appropriate and acceptable diplomatic plan.

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