Trump Mideast peace plan adds to confusion

by Claude Salhani

US President Donald Trump’s much-awaited Middle East peace plan may be in trouble before it is even presented to the parties concerned.

Trump’s first attempt at delving into the thorny Middle East peace process by looking at the problem through an economic lens rather than the usual political filters appears to have lost traction before its official start.

The plan concocted by his son-in-law and senior White House adviser, Jared Kushner, offers financial incentives with the administration’s logic being it would succeed where others have failed.

Even before it was presented to the parties concerned, the man who in principle is supposed to be out pushing the plan for his boss, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he was uncertain of the perception it might have as a workable plan.

Indeed, if Pompeo feels that way about the plan, its chances of making it out of the starting gate with any hope of success are greatly diminished.

Pompeo’s doubts deal a clearly unneeded self-inflicted wound to the initiative. It can only further handicap an already stuttering process.

That’s not even counting the Palestinians who said they are not interested in working with the Trump administration, which they say is openly biased in favour of the Israelis.

The Palestinians, already wary of the Trump administration, were dealt three big blows by the current White House even before negotiations got under way.

They point to moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the administration recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the closing of the Palestinian Authority office in Washington and the administration giving its blessing to the occupied Golan Heights as being Israeli.

The document was meant to be released after the Israeli elections and at the end of Ramadan. However, a rerun of the Israeli elections means a delay in releasing the documents, not necessarily a bad thing because it buys the administration time to fine-tune points it wants to present.

The remarks by Pompeo, first reported by the Washington Post, were reportedly made during a private meeting of Jewish leaders and show that even the plan’s backers expect the latest US blueprint for ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to be met with deep scepticism.

The economic components of the proposal are to be unveiled at a conference June 25-26 in Bahrain.

“It may be rejected. Could be in the end, folks will say, ‘It’s not particularly original. It doesn’t particularly work for me,’ that is, ‘It’s got two good things and nine bad things, I’m out,'” the Washington Post reported Pompeo as saying, citing an audio recording of the meeting it obtained.

When asked about the recording in an interview June 3 with the Sinclair Broadcast Group, Pompeo did not deny its authenticity.

“I think there will be things in this plan that lots of people like,” he said.

Trump, asked about Pompeo’s doubts on the plan gaining traction, said: “He may be right.”

“I think we have a good chance but we’ll see what happens,” he said.

Kushner, in an interview with news site Axios said the Palestinians “should have self-determination” but suggested they were not ready for a full state.

“The hope is, is that over time, they can become capable of governing,” Kushner, who has close family ties to Netanyahu, said when asked if he believes the Palestinians can govern themselves without Israeli interference.

Kushner said the Palestinians “need to have a fair judicial system… freedom of the press, freedom of expression, tolerance for all religions” before the Palestinian territories can become “investable.”

The Palestinians have rejected US mediation and are boycotting the Bahrain conference. They don’t see Trump as capable of being an honest broker.

Trump, whose evangelical Christian base strongly backs Israel, has broken precedent by recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the Jewish state’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Israel captured Arab East Jerusalem from Jordan and the Golan from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War.

The US administration will have to bear in mind that many Arab countries, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, are unlikely to back an initiative that appears meant to satisfy on only one side of the conflict.

Misgivings and divided stances within the administration itself can only hamper any attempts to sell the deal.

Claude Salhani is a regular columnist for The Arab Weekly and senior fellow at the Institute of World Affairs.

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