Monthly Archives: May 2017

I Don’t Want Trump to Sign a Peace Treaty between the Israelis and Palestinians

Any peace deal signed by Trump will, by definition, be tainted and suspicious. It will lack credibility and be untrustworthy from the start. Even when he steps forward and espouses generalities about progress the public will be very skeptical. His word is one of the last things most people trust. Trump is a hustler and he will sell you whatever he thinks can turn a profit. Remember Trump vodka, steaks, marriages and my favorite–Trump University. A Trump peace proposal will be to peace proposals what Trump University was to education, a quickly constructed pseudo-product designed for the self-aggrandizement of Trump more than anything else.

Trump has no fire in his belly to solve the problem; it is not something he has struggled with for years and been committed to. Trump’s history is one of bungled deals, exaggerated claims, manipulations, lies and hyperbolic assertions. He is insufficiently knowledgeable about Jewish history and the State of Israel and he has cleansed his trip to Israel of most anything “Jewish”. He will speak at the airport, the Israel Museum, the King David Hotel, and the Prime Minister’s residence (directly across the street from my apartment). He will go to the Western Wall but not without somebody on the staff foolishly claiming it’s not part of Israel. He reduced his time at Yad Vashem (the Holocaust Memorial) to 15 minutes. That’s 2½ minutes per million.

Trump is in no position to make progress on anything related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Sure, he has to report some success so expect something like the following during a post-trip interview:

 

“We really made tremendous progress with the Israelis and Palestinians. It’s really going to be terrific, everybody says so. We are going to work out a deal and it’s going to be great for both sides. We have the best people working on and it is going to be great.”

 

Trump is all wrong for the nuances necessary to manage the conflict. Trump is better mano-a-mano and much more comfortable speaking bluntly and broadly. This is all one reason he won’t make much progress. There will be confidence building activity such as slowdowns on settlements and expressions of agreement about borders and concessions but that will be about it. But if Trump is serious about making progress here are three suggestions for him. And since Trump is quite concerned about “not being Obama” increased incorporation of these principles will be helpful with that.

  1. In particular, Abbas must answer to the larger Arab world as well as his own community. He cannot just give away what is considered by many Muslims to be holy land. Thus, Trump should increase the involvement of countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt in order to provide increased legitimization for the process and the Palestinian position in particular.
  2. Trump should insist on the improvement of infrastructure and internal politics of the Palestinians. The PLA have not sufficiently used their worldwide support to build civil society and services for the population. They need to stop practices such as paying terrorist families.
  3. And Israel must be required to cease and control settlement development. The settlements are perhaps the major obstacle to progress and nothing will happen if settlement expansion continues.

Even though, as I said above, that any deal with Trump would be immediately suspect he will be moving in the right direction if he focuses on the three suggestions above. Then he will have made a terrific deal and everybody will say so.

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Trump is About to Learn Something About Making Deals

It will be interesting to see how Trump does with Abbas and the scheduled discussions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Given Trump’s gargantuan ego I suppose it was to be expected that he would head right for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and claim that he can solve the world’s most formidable intractable conflict. After all, it is just another real estate deal isn’t it? Unless he is more informed that I think he is, Trump’s about to get his head handed to him. Trump is a clear supporter of Israel and that will work against him during the conversations. The Palestinians may calculate that Trump will be effective at getting the Israelis to concede and moderate, but it will take more than Trump’s ideological compatibilities with Israel to get anything more than token changes that Israel is prepared to give up in negotiations anyway.

Remember, Abbas is not such a free agent. He doesn’t really have the authority or leadership power to all-by-himself bargain away the West Bank and Gaza. And Abbas may have an avuncular presence about him that seems benign but he really is a pretty fierce opponent of Israel. He is associated with a certain amount of anti-Semitism and according to most reports continues to glorify terrorist activity including incentivizing terrorists by providing money for their families. Trump will ignore these things at his peril. Actually, he will not be able to ignore the possibility that US funds to the Palestinian Authority will be cut off because of the Taylor Force Act, which is a piece of legislation in process that makes it a crime to fund payments of any type to terrorists and their families.

One of the internal paradoxes of this difficult conflict is that, at this point anyway, it remains the case that any agreement that would be acceptable to the Palestinians would probably be a threat to Israel; that is, the two sides are not at a point yet where they will accept something that is both advantageous to themselves and the other.

Trump keeps confronting dictators and autocrats –Kim Jong-un, Duterte, Abbas, Chinese leadership – because he thinks the magic words of “The Art of the Deal” combined with his particular appeal is all it takes to solve any problem. Trump brings no background, context, and historical framework to these discussions. True enough that he has advisors but they seem to add little to the solutions.

The US is even losing some interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A coalition of states and clear policy about Iranian nuclear weapons is more in line with US foreign policy in the Middle East. Iran is a predatory nation that has a triumphalist mentality and the potential nuclear weapon to do serious damage. This is not to mention Iran’s proxy group (Hezbollah) to whom they would most likely release a nuclear weapon. This gives them deniability.

The Palestinian Authority will be pretty tough negotiators because they have much to lose if they do not get everything they want. The PA has made progress in its criticism and international condemnation of Israel. And even if the PA were a potential partner to genuine negotiations there remains the matter of Hamas. Israel is not going to give up anything, as it should not, without recognition of its existence and the state of Israel.

Even in the face of Hamas’s supposed revised statement, I can’t imagine them recognizing Israel anytime in the near future.

Don’t expect much from Trump. Normally I would give him credit for trying but I’m not sure that this time he might not do more harm than good.

Steve Bannon and Dangerous White House Thinking

Early in the campaign I thought Trump was displaying some linguistic and behavior patterns that were troublesome. I don’t mean this to be snide as if I were calling him “crazy” just because I didn’t vote for him. I generally thought he exhibited a linguistic word salad that was indicative of certain cognitive disorders. It looks more and more like this might be an accurate assessment. But my concerns are not clinical as much as they are worried about the stability of the government. At one time a citizen could feel confident that there are enough people around the president to handle any problems and make a smooth transition to someone else if necessary. Or, the advisory staff was capable and competent.

But in Trump’s case we have people like Steve Bannon who are enamored and believe in crackpot theories of how the world is going to unfold. Bannon is a self-styled intellectual in the tradition of Trump’s exaggerations, lack of evidence, and the belief that anything he says must bring it into reality.

Bannon is a devotee of a book titled “The Fourth Turning” by William Strauss and Neil Howe. According to a number of newspaper reports he has read it numerous times and keeps a copy handy. Now, Strauss and Howe are interesting fellows in their own right but we will let that be for the moment in order to take a look at their generational theories, alarmist prophecies, and catastrophic outlook that will reorganize the global order according to Bannon. The man who sits next to the President of the United States, the man who President Trump believes to be prescient and forward thinking believes that the history of the world is divided up into predictable cycles that repeat themselves, and United States is just short of entering a cycle that will be catastrophic or revolutionary.

The book reads like an end-of-days warning about an apocalyptic end. I read the book because I wanted to know what Bannon and others saw in this vision. The book turns out to be rather shallow and repetitive, constantly looking for any chance it can find to organize something into four phases, or see some cyclical relationship. There are qualified and respected historians that are called “cyclical theorists” meaning they believe in cycles of history (e.g. Marx, Toynbee). But there are scholars who have the credentials to make such statements and sound arguments in support of repetitive phases of a culture. Strauss and Howe are reaching to make interpretations that are less than justifiable and in some cases don’t even make any sense. I would also add that “cycle” theorists in history such as Karl Marx and Toynbee have little standing in contemporary scholarship.

According to The Fourth Turning history proceeds in cycles of about 80 years and can be divided into four phases. So, in the US the four phases are like the seasons of the year: a spring-like “high” (postwar America), the summer awakening and spirituality (the 1960s), autumnal alienation (the Reagan era), and finally the wintery crisis that is a transformational event that sweeps out the old order. There is more to the theory along with other cycles but I think you get the point. Strauss and Howe are still chasing the dream of finding a complete scientific theory of history when, in fact, modern historians are more micro then they are macro with respect to the artifacts of history and what they mean.

The sense of determinism is one of the most disturbing things about Strauss and Howe. If they would’ve noted some repetitive patterns in history and simply argued for their presence they might have presented us with a relatively interesting volume. But the notion that these cycles are godlike in their surety and ability to predict the future is a little unsettling. There is nothing wrong with the notion that some cycles or patterns exist but they are subject to the influences of multiple natural and historical forces that make them unpredictable.

Bannon may believe some apocalyptic ending is near – and his proximity to power is what makes that dangerous – but my advice to you is below:

Remember, that true believers tend to fall in love uncritically with some seductive idea. Get to know the idea before you are influenced by perfumed thoughts and alluring possibilities.

 

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