In the past few days, President Donald Trump has met with both the Egyptian and Jordanian leaders to discuss the situation in the Middle East. For obvious reasons, the focus has been on the war in Syria, but what of prospects for peace between Israel and the Palestinians? Will Trump bring the two sides closer together than any of his predecessors managed to do? He has already signaled that his approach will be different – in that he is less inclined to push either side into yet another uneasy deal – but it appears, at least for now he will not be the President who finally engineers a lasting solution.
Solving the Israeli-Palestinian problem has been a main foreign policy goal for many a U.S. president, but none have achieved more than officiating a temporary peace with a few minor concessions from one or both sides. All indications are that President Trump lacks the burning desire to be the one who finally settles the issue. Rather than imposing parameters, he appears to have already staked out his role as merely a facilitator.
Speaking at a joint press conference with King Abdullah of Jordan, the president did not dwell upon the issue but did express his willingness to be flexible.
The two-state solution has been on and off the table but continues to be a remote possibility. The Israelis have no desire to allow the creation of a Palestinian state that refuses to recognize Israel’s current borders or, even, it’s very right to exist and insists upon having East Jerusalem as its capital.
Whilst President Trump is not a supporter of Israel’s continued settlement expansion, his election has, no doubt, put Israel more at ease; President Barack Obama was no friend to the Jewish state, and his administration even attempted to sway the most recent elections in Israel against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Additionally, both Obama and U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton threw their support behind the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise to power in neighboring Egypt. It should be remembered that the terrorist organization Hamas is, in fact, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood.
As for the question of settlements; Netanyahu has signaled a willingness to scale back his expansion agenda, and the White House has reacted positively. According to a report in Politico, an administration official said “The Israeli government has made clear that going forward, its intent is to adopt a policy regarding settlement activity that takes (Trump’s) concerns into consideration. The United States welcomes this.”
Trump is unlikely to allow himself to get sucked into this intractable conflict, the way several of his predecessors did. That could change, of course, should a significant military conflict once again escalate between the two sides.
Israel, once again, has a staunch ally in the United Nations and the world’s attention is drawn to the struggle against the Islamic State. In the meantime, President Trump has a full plate here at home and, as far as foreign policy is concerned, must deal with Syria and North Korea. Having ordered airstrikes in Syria – a retaliatory measure for Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons – the president’s longer-term intentions for Syria are not clear. He has now called for a new coalition to enter the fray, but deeper U.S. military involvement is fraught with risk, both in Syria itself and in terms of public support at home.
At this point, it is hard to imagine peace between the Palestinians and Israel coming any closer, or moving further away, during Trump’s first term in office. The Palestinian leadership – still split between Fatah and Hamas – is as inflexible as even. Feeling a little less besieged, however, the Israelis may be less inclined to impose their will than they otherwise might have been.