US-Israel Honeymoon May Not Last
Trump has taken two unprecedented steps highly favorable to Israel: recognizing
Jerusalem as its capital and cutting funds to the United Nations Relief and
Works Agency (UNRWA), an organization ultimately devoted to eliminating the
Jewish state. These long-overdue actions break antique log-jams dating back
nearly 70 years and offer fresh opportunities to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli
conflict. Bravo to Trump for enduring the slings and arrows of conventional
thinking to take these courageous steps and then stick with them.
said, there's a problem. Both moves were undertaken for what appear to be the
wrong reasons. This is not an abstract worry but implies that today's
celebration could turn into tomorrow's fiasco.
problem for Israel: Trump
says he recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital to settle the Jerusalem
issue. Listen to him ruminate on this: "The hardest subject [that Israeli
and Palestinian negotiators] had to talk about was Jerusalem. We took Jerusalem
off the table, so we don't have to talk about it anymore. They never got past
suggests Trump thinks recognition solved the knotty Jerusalem issue, as though
this were a New York real-estate transaction and he made a side-deal about
zoning regulations or union representation. But it's not. Far from being
"off the table," Trump's action made Jerusalem an unprecedented center
of attention and contention.
If not for Amb. Nikki Haley's veto, the U.N. Security Council
would unanimously have condemned Jerusalem recognition.
example, members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation overwhelmingly
condemned his step, as did members of both the U.N. Security Council and the
General Assembly. In addition, recognition caused Palestinian
violence against Israelis to triple. Thus, Trump made Jerusalem a more
disputed issue than it had been previously.
will Trump react when he eventually realizes that Jerusalem remains very much
"on the table" and that his grand gesture had the opposite effect from
what he intended? My prediction: with a frustration and fury that could sour him
on the Jerusalem recognition and on Israel; it could even prompt this
temperamental and spontaneous figure to rescind the recognition.
problem: Trump intends to exact an unspecified price from Israel for the
recognition, stating "Israel will pay
for that" and it "would have had to pay
more." For the moment, with the Palestinian Authority (PA) boycotting
American mediation and personally insulting Trump, that price is in abeyance.
But the American door is permanently open to Palestinians and when they wise up,
some fabulous gift awaits them in the White House. (This dynamic of extracting
quid pro quos from Israel explains why I generally prefer
low-simmering tensions between Washington and Jerusalem.)
problem: Trump did not withhold $65 million from UNRWA out of a scheduled $125
million tranche to punish an execrable organization for its record since 1949 of
inciting Palestinians against Israel, encouraging violence against Jews,
engaging in corruption, and expanding (rather than reducing) the refugee
population. Rather, he withheld the money to pressure the PA to restart
negotiations with Israel. As
Trump tweeted: "with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace,
why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?"
once PA leader Mahmoud Abbas gets over his extended
snit about Jerusalem and agrees to "talk peace," he has a bevy of
benefits awaiting him: the possible reversal of Jerusalem recognition, some
fabulous reward, and the resumption of full, maybe even expanded, U.S. funding.
At that point, the pope, the chancellor, the crown prince, and the New York
Times will congratulate a glowing Trump; and Israel will find itself coldly
thrust out of favor.
has already slightly edged
back from his histrionics, which are anyway for domestic consumption,
showing a radicalized Palestinian body politic that he is just as tough, nasty,
and delusional as his Hamas rivals. Of course, he well knows that the United
States of America is the one and only power that can pressure Israel to make
concessions. So, after a decent
interval, Abbas inexorably will mumble apologies, lavish praise on Trump,
fire up the Palestinians' horde of proxies, "talk peace" with Israel,
and worm his way into the administration's good graces.
On Jan. 29, 2018, in Gaza City, UNRWA employees protested the
U.S.decision to cut funding.
that happens, the current U.S.-Israel honeymoon will likely crash and burn,
replaced by the usual
bickering, where Washington wants Israelis to "take chances for
peace" and "make painful concessions," and they resist those
been wrong many times about Trump in the past. I hope I am wrong this time too.