Trump’s Mideast ‘Deal of the Century’ May Be a Raw One for Israel

By Daniel Pipes

Wall Street Journal

January 23, 2019


President Trump has spoken repeatedly about his desire to find the “deal of the century” to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While the president’s specific plan remains a tightly held secret, he and several aides occasionally drop hints about it. From what one can tell, it doesn’t sound good.

The first theme of Mr. Trump’s comments is neutrality toward Israel and the Palestinians. He had already expressed that in December 2015, when he insisted both sides “are going to have to make sacrifices” to achieve peace, and he has made many similar comments since. Mr. Trump seems not to recall that Israel has repeatedly made concessions since 1993, including turning over land and permitting a Palestinian police corps, only to be met with heightened Palestinian intransigence and violence.

A tilt toward the Palestinians emerged as the second theme of Mr. Trump’s comments in December 2017. Speaking with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, Mr. Trump described himself, in the New Yorker’s words, as “committed to getting the Palestinians the best possible deal” and emphasized that “Israel would make real concessions.” Mr. Abbas would get a better deal from him than from President Obama, Mr. Trump reportedly said more than once.

That same month, Mr. Trump announced he would move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. But this was not a gift to the Jewish state. “Israel will pay for that,” Mr. Trump explained publicly; indeed, in a future deal Israel “would have . . . to pay more” than the Palestinians.

In February 2018 Mr. Trump was back to equivalence: “Both sides will have to make hard compromises,” he said, and while “the Palestinians are not looking to make peace . . . I am not necessarily sure that Israel is looking to make peace.”

Then in August 2018 Mr. Trump said, “In the negotiation, Israel will have to pay a higher price because they won a very big thing,” an allusion to the embassy move. The Palestinians, however, will “get something very good, because it’s their turn next.”

Also in September, according to Israel’s Channel 10, Mr. Trump emphasized this point to France’s President Emmanuel Macron: “I can be tough with Netanyahu on the peace plan, just like I’ve been tough on the Palestinians.” When Mr. Macron suggested the Israeli prime minister prefers the status quo to a peace deal, Mr. Trump reportedly replied, “I’m very close to reaching that same conclusion.”

Significantly, Mr. Trump portrayed harsh U.S. steps against the Palestinian Authority, such as cutting its funding, not as principled pro-Israel moves but as pressure on the Palestinians to negotiate: “I was tough on the Palestinians because they wouldn’t talk to us,” he told Mr. Macron. Presumably these steps would be reversed once Mr. Abbas or a successor comes to the table, as seems inevitable given how much the Palestinians stand to gain.

Jason Greenblatt, Mr. Trump’s special representative for international negotiations, reverted in October 2018 to the theme of neutrality, announcing that the deal will “be heavily focused on Israeli security needs, but we also want to be fair to the Palestinians.” “Each side will find things in this plan that they don’t like,” he said.

Nikki Haley, then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, alluded to the pro-Palestinian tilt in December 2018, noting that “both sides would benefit greatly from a peace agreement, but the Palestinians would benefit more, and the Israelis would risk more.”

This drumbeat of comments—about neutrality, suspicion of Netanyahu and expecting Israel to make the larger concessions—signals a potential crisis in U.S.-Israel relations, perhaps the most intense since 1975, when Gerald Ford began his “reassessment” of the relationship, or possibly even 1957, when Dwight Eisenhower coerced Israel to evacuate the Sinai Peninsula.

Should Israel reject a U.S. plan, the full weight of Mr. Trump’s wrath could well follow. As he recently showed with Turkey, when displeased the president can radically shift relations: He pivoted from a warm and trusting conversation with the Turkish president on Dec. 14, 2018, to a threat to “devastate Turkey economically” on Jan. 13. Likewise, Mr. Trump’s ambassador to Israel may call him “the most pro-Israel president ever,” but he could become Israel’s chief adversary if its leaders anger him. Were this to happen, the Palestinians would become great beneficiaries of Mr. Trump’s favor.

So far the administration’s hints have aroused minimal concern in the American pro-Israel community, which blithely but wrongly trusts Mr. Trump as one of their own. But a plan as inimical to Israel as Mr. Trump’s appears to be will have major negative implications not only for the Jewish state but for Mr. Trump’s re-election hopes. Therefore, Americans who support Israel and Republicans hoping for the president’s re-election both need to protest and obstruct the prospect of this misbegotten “deal of the century.”