Monday,21 May, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1356, (10 - 16 August 2017)
Monday,21 May, 2018
Issue 1356, (10 - 16 August 2017)

Ahram Weekly

An empty promise

Trump promised a deal to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Then nothing happened, writes Hussein Haridy

When President Donald Trump entered the White House in January, he has raised expectations in Palestine and the Arab world about what he termed “the deal of the century” — nothing less than a final agreement between the Palestinians and Israelis to end, once and for all, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Trump has met, in the last six months, with Arab, Palestinian and Israeli leaders at the White House, including Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi. Although the US president has not wholeheartedly supported the two-state solution, he let it be known that he would lend American support for any final arrangement the Palestinians and Israelis would come up with through direct negotiations. Direct negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government of Binyamin Netanyahu were suspended back in April 2014 during the second term of former president Barack Obama. Now six months in office, President Trump has not succeeded, neither in sealing a grand deal or even restarting direct negotiations. Looking at the apparent strategic priorities of the Trump presidency in the Middle East, a final settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict appears low on the priority list.

On Tuesday, 1 August, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, made a surprise appearance at a State Department press briefing. He outlined the positions of the Trump administration on the most crucial and urgent international and regional questions, including Middle Eastern questions. You would expect the US secretary of state to make a brief reference to the conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis, on the one hand, and the peace process, on the other hand. But none of that was touched upon. Not only surprising but disheartening. The conclusion is that the “deal of the century” remains an empty promise.

And to make matters more complicated for the Palestinians and the Arabs, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee adopted a recommendation Thursday, 3 August, to withhold US financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority, assistance that amounts to $300 million per year, until the time Palestinians stop providing monthly stipends to the families of “martyrs” and Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, in addition to stopping incitement to violence, whether in Palestinian media or in school curricula. Not only this, but also a petition signed by 16 Republican and Democratic members of the committee to the US permanent representative to the United Nations in New York to solicit the support of other countries to follow suit.

A Palestinian official quoted a highly-placed US envoy to the Palestinian Authority as saying that relations between the United States and the Palestinian Authority require steps on the part of the latter to make such relations fruitful; mainly not to pay those who “kill Israelis or Americans” for the administration won’t accept that American taxpayers’ money goes to provide financial support for people who “kill”. The US envoy is seemingly oblivious to the fact that the United States has been funding the Israeli occupation of Arab and Palestinian territories since June 1967. No one in Washington officialdom seems to have counted the numbers of Arabs and Palestinians killed and maimed by Israel during all those years.

Palestinian officials believe that the Republican administration of President Trump is the most pro-Israel US administration since the Madrid Peace Conference of October 1991. To drive this sad point home, a member of the Palestinian delegation that sits with American emissaries to the Palestinian Authority said that the American negotiating team adopts Israeli positions on a host of sticking points that concern the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and advances them as American ideas and proposals. The most intriguing point is the fact, according to the same Palestinian official, quoted in Al-Hayat 6 August, that the American side defends the settlement policies of the Israeli government. American negotiators believe that the question of settlements should be dealt with in direct negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

The “deal of the century”, all told, is not coming tomorrow.

The writer is former assistant to the foreign minister.

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