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- READ IN FULL: Trump and Abbas' remarks after first meeting in White House
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The new but not-so-secret weapon of Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian leadership is flattery. Pure, unadulterated, unrestrained, unvarnished blarney. Whether this is a result of psychological profiling and detailed staff work or simply the gut instincts of experienced old hands, the Palestinians have come to the conclusion that the way to win Donald Trump’s heart is to sing his praises as if there’s no tomorrow, with hardly a thought about the lack of any connection between their adulation and reality.
The Palestinians have put Trump’s ego in their crosshairs, and they are emptying their entire arsenal of fawning phrases to hit their target. Everyone is in on the act, from Abbas, through Jibril Rajoub all the way to Hamas leader Khaled Meshal, who also paid tribute on Wednesday to Trump the almighty.
The Palestinians are taking orders from Dale Carnegie, author of "How to Win Friends and Influence People," who defined flattery as “telling the other person precisely what he thinks about himself.” When Trump stands in front of the mirror in the White House to ask “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the greatest of them all?” Abbas jumps out in front of him and answers, in an admiring whisper: “You, Mr. President. Only you.”
One shouldn’t discount this Palestinian strategy of shamelessly kowtowing to Trump. He is, after all, a decidedly narcissistic leader who is blind to his well-known deficiencies as he exponentially inflates his less recognizable strengths. Winston Churchill himself regarded flattery as a highly efficient diplomatic tool: It’s how he won over Franklin Roosevelt and prodded him to save Britain in World War II just as he softened up Josef Stalin to throw millions of Russians at the Nazis. And Benjamin Netanyahu, a well-known Churchillian, is obviously well aware of the challenge that faces him. For the past few weeks he’s been bombarding Trump with ridiculous accolades, giving him credit for changing the face of the Middle East with one innocuous bombing of Syria and describing him as a virtual Righteous among the Nations who is standing up for poor Syrian kids.
But Abbas has a built-in advantage, nonetheless, not only because Netanyahu cannot rely on his ministers not to start sniping at Trump the moment they whiff that he means business. Abbas is feeding Trump’s oversized ego and fueling his burning ambition to go where no president has gone before, to confound all the experts, analysts and purveyors of fake news who claim that Israeli-Palestinian peace is unachievable. Yes you can, Abbas is telling Trump, à la Barack Obama. You can do it. You’re the one. Abbas is the cheerleader egging Trump on, leaving Netanyahu no choice but to play the party-pooper who has to cool Trump’s enthusiasm and explain why things aren’t so simple.
The devil is in the details of course. The same details that have prevented a peace deal since time immemorial. It’s also far from clear whether either Abbas or Netanyahu have the personal will or the political capacity to agree on the details, even if such a thing were possible. Abbas repeatedly reiterated at the White House on Wednesday that the Palestinians are seeking a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital, without knowing whether Trump accepts this formula. In their private conversation, Trump must have realized that it is easier for Abbas to seem moderate in public than to make real concessions on issues such as stopping payments to convicted Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. And even a master fibber such as Trump must have scoffed when he heard Abbas claim that Palestinians are raising their children and grandchildren in an atmosphere of peace.
It may be too early for Jewish settlers and their fans to panic, but it’s not to start feeling hot under the collar. The fact that Trump opened his words of welcome for Abbas on Wednesday by praising his signature on the Oslo Accords, which they detest, is one alarm bell that should already start ringing. The fact that Trump may actually believe he can secure a deal may seem naive, at first, but could also mean that he won’t take no for an answer. And the sight of Palestinians plying Trump with all the good things he rarely hears from anyone else, almost begging him to take them under his wings and be the father they never had - well, it’s certainly a ludicrous scene until you remember that Trump could very well start to believe the Palestinian malarkey and to tell them “Your wish is my command.”