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
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
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
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.”