For his “deal of the century” in the Middle East, Trump forgot to tell us in which century it would be revealed.
Reuters recently provided an update on the peace process in the Middle East, or rather the lack thereof. For any process to proceed, it must have a vague but real vision of a realizable goal. The news agency reports: “U.S. officials have so far been non-committal about whether their plan would endorse the creation of a Palestinian state beside the state of Israel — the goal of previous rounds of negotiations, the last of which collapsed in 2014.”
Here is today’s 3D definition:
Defines the position of those who refuse to acknowledge that they have decided to reverse course because that decision would be judged to be a betrayal of previous commitments
In negotiations, it is always preferable to leave options open. But it is equally necessary to have a shared idea of what the goal of the negotiations is likely to be. When US President Donald Trump appointed his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to define and conduct the 25-year-old “peace process” to settle the conflict between two populations — Israeli and Palestinian — that inhabit the same land, he showed an aptitude for both putting a thumb on the scales and hiding his intentions. Rather than appealing to an experienced diplomat, he chose a member of his own family, with the implicit message that diplomatic tradition need not get in the way of family decision-making. And of course a neutral observer could hardly avoid the suspicion that the Jewish-American Kushner might be biased in favor of one of the parties.
In December 2017, the Trump administration promised the “ultimate deal,” a choice of words that tipped off some commentators that Trump and Kushner’s handling of diplomacy was modeled on a real estate transaction. This represents a significant shift in method, if not in underlying intent. As Dalia Hatuqa observes in Foreign Policy, “The United States … has sought to maintain the fiction that it is an honest broker and neutral mediator.” The author adds this significant detail: “The Trump administration has finally dropped that mask, revealing Washington’s true colors.”
In other words, Trump is simply making clear the degree of non-commitment that has existed since the beginning. What he has added, however, is the concoction of some kind of “deal,” which appears to be more a power play involving Saudi Arabia than a serious diplomatic initiative.
According to Ian McCredie, writing for Fair Observer, “The so-called ‘deal of the century’ that Jared Kushner keeps promising to reveal soon will actually be no more than an ultimatum to the Palestinians to accept a Vichy France-style sub-state in return for some Saudi and UAE funded development aid.” The world is waiting to discover the proposed terms of that deal, whose secrecy seems to be its unique selling point. That may be a good enough reason to keep on claiming that one is “non-commital,” which sounds like a ploy to make us believe Trump is the honest broker he once claimed he would be.
In perhaps the most surreal presentation of the state of discussion, Kushner maintained that the “Palestinian leadership is ‘scared we will release our peace plan and the Palestinian people will actually like it’, because it would offer them a better life.” This clarifies many of the recent actions of the administration: moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, cancelling $200 million in aid, defunding the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), ending support for hospitals and exchange programs, and closing the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) office in Washington. By making things far worse for Palestinians, they would end up seeing the deal as offering “them a better life.”
Trump’s practices reflect what we have called a “new universe of primordial punishment.” Some observers have pointed out, however, that — as with most issues — Trump and his team are fundamentally continuing past practices, and simply exaggerating their effects.
The progressive Jewish site Forward identifies the trend, about which it has no illusions: “Since the 1970s, and certainly since Bill Clinton got Yitzhak Rabin and Yaser Arafat to shake hands on the White House lawn at the beginning of the Oslo Peace Process in 1993, every American president has practiced ‘dealism.’” The author, Peter Beinart, adds: “When it comes to Israel and Palestine … American presidents have generally described America’s core goal not as ending oppression but as negotiating an agreement.”
Beinart characterizes Trump’s approach to the Middle East conflict in a way that exemplifies a typically Trumpian, but also a typical American attitude toward not only negotiation, but also economic relationships: “They have demanded that the weaker party cave on virtually everything.” This is the principle at work in all oligarchies, even those emerging under democratic constitutions. Such practitioners consider punishment during negotiation as a positive factor of further weakening.
Echoing our own observations concerning US National Security Adviser John Bolton’s speech condemning the International Criminal Court and announcing the closure of the PLO’s office, Beinart describes this as the “collective punishment of millions of vulnerable and disenfranchised people for the crime of desiring citizenship in a state.”
Most observers have concluded that the strategy has failed. Trump has no allies other than Israel itself. Even Saudi Arabia is less sure. At the same time, a certain hypocrisy has been exposed, for which we have to thank, once again, the derring-do of Trump and Co.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.