Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1345, (18 - 24 May 2017)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1345, (18 - 24 May 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Trump between Netanyahu and Lauder

Donald Trump seems determined to push for a peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians, a prospect that frightens the Netanyahu government and Israeli right wing, writes Hussein Haridy

President Donald Trump is expected in Israel 22 May for his first visit to the Hebrew state since he became president. There is persistent speculation that the American president wants to announce the resumption of peace negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis during his visit. He is scheduled to travel to the Palestinian territories to meet President Mahmoud Abbas. A few days ago, the Palestinian president said that he would be willing to take part in a bilateral meeting with the Israeli prime minister under the auspices of President Trump.

The prospect of a determined American effort to push both the Palestinians and the Israelis to the negotiating table is sending shock waves within the political parties in the coalition governing Israel, particularly the Likud and Bayit Yehudi of Naftali Bennett, the minister of education in the Israeli government. A case in point is the rush to adopt a bill that went through a first reading in the Knesset entitled “Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People”. The Israeli Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved the bill that was tabled by Avi Dichter, a Knesset Likud member. Instead of waiting for 60 days for the government to come up with its version of the bill, Netanyahu, in a meeting Sunday, 14 May, with the leaders of his coalition partners, asked to speed up the process so that the bill could be enacted into law before the 60-day period. The bill states that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people and deals with issues like the Israeli flag and the national anthem. What is more important and very serious in the bill is the affirmation that Jerusalem is the undivided capital of Israel.

Understandably, the governing coalition in Israel would like to pass the bill into law before the arrival of the US president in Israel, and to exert maximum pressure on Abbas and the Palestinians to recognise Israel as a Jewish state before the resumption of peace talks between the two sides. It goes without saying that the Israeli coalition is aware that no Palestinian leader would ever accept such a precondition to go to the negotiating table. The idea is to raise the stakes so high for the president of the Palestinian Authority that he declines to sit with the Israelis. In this case, the Israelis will tell the US administration that the Palestinians are to blame for the failure of American attempts to bring the two together in peace talks once again.

The Israelis are pushing for the relocation of the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. And this is one of the reasons why the Israeli prime minister is rushing the bill on Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. He was urged by Bennett to make clear to President Trump that a majority of Israelis expect President Trump to announce the transfer of the American embassy to Jerusalem.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press” aired Sunday, 14 May, that President Trump “is very measured in how he goes about this” and added that the “president… has taken a very deliberative approach to understanding the issue itself, listening to input from all interested parties in the region, and understanding, in the context of a peace initiative, what impact would such a move have.”

My own interpretation of this answer is that the US administration is open to the transfer, but would like to turn the move into a bargaining chip with the Israelis. What would you give in return for the Palestinians at the negotiating table? The move will have a price attached, and the Israelis will have to pay.

Enter Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress (WJC). Lauder is a close friend of President Trump for many years, and apparently he has his ear when it comes to the peace process between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Lately, Lauder has been saying on various occasions that he has succeeded in convincing President Trump that peace is at hand in the Middle East, something that has frightened the Israeli prime minister who is not very enthusiastic about the establishment of a Palestinian state. Lauder believes, on the other hand, that Abbas is really serious about reaching a peace agreement with the Israelis. Of course, this narrative does not sit well with the Israeli extreme right that keeps saying that Abbas and the Palestinians are bent on the destruction of Israel, in the long term. A Jewish source quoted in The Jerusalem Post on Sunday, 14 May, warned Lauder that Abbas is “an inveterate anti-Semite but speaks with a forked tongue, portraying himself as a man of peace and moderation to the outside world while continuing to encourage religious hatred and anti-Semitism among his own people.” And the source put the following questions to Lauder to see whether Abbas would accept:

  • Coexisting with Israel as a Jewish state.
  • Agreeing to Israel implementing whatever security is required to ensure that a Palestinian entity is demilitarised and to prevent the Iranians from approaching.
  • Accepting that the major settlement blocs will be incorporated into Israel.
  • Bringing an end to the foul exhortations of hatred emanating from the mosques, schools and media depicting Jews as subhuman, calling for the destruction of Israel and inciting to murdering Israelis.
  • Relinquishing the Palestinian ‘right of return’ to Israel.
  • Terminating weekly payments to murderers of Jews and pensions to their survivors.
  • Ending the sanctification of mass murderers by naming schools, city squares and even football clubs to commemorate them.

Fortunately, Robert Lauder, despite the demonisation of the Palestinians depicted in the questions cited above, was unfazed and still believes that we should give peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis a chance. Hopefully, President Trump will not be swayed by the arguments and the manoeuvring of Netanyahu and his coalition partners of the extreme-right in Israel that are designed to impose a diktat on the Palestinians and not a peace accord that would stand the test of time.

Let us hope that the Trump administration won’t relent in its pursuit of peace in the Middle East.

The writer is former assistant to the foreign minister.

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