Category Archives: Communication and Conflict Resolution

More Jerusalem for Dummies

The legal and political standing of Jerusalem remains unclear and subject to confusion. Recall from last week’s post that when the United Nations decided to divide Palestine into a Jewish and Arab state Jerusalem was not included. It was to be administered by an international group until some equitable agreement could be reached as a result of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. Some such third-party administering unit is still a viable idea that may be a part of an end-of-conflict solution. It recognizes the importance of the religious sites for all groups and keeps the various sides engaged with one another. Still, the likelihood that Israel will forgo sovereignty over the old city is slim.

But the Arabs did not accept the partition plan and war was the result. At the end of the war in 1948 Israel had taken West Jerusalem and Jordan East Jerusalem including the old city, the center of the religious life. During the 19 years that Jordan occupied East Jerusalem the Palestinians grew into a nationalist movement and made increasing demands on Jerusalem as a future capital. But after 1967 Israel expanded the city’s borders and added Jewish residents to the neighborhood. As of 2015 Arabs made up 38% of the population (Central Bureau of Statistics) of Jerusalem.

The incorporation of Arab neighborhoods into the municipality of Jerusalem has created a regular tension between Palestinians and Israelis. For example, the Palestinians do not participate – or participate minimally – in civil society governance and therefore suffer from poor services with respect to roads, schools, garbage collection etc. The Palestinians are designated as permanent residents but such a status can be revoked at any time.

In East Jerusalem Israel has also incorporated some neighborhoods that were never a part of Jerusalem in the first place, and has built new neighborhoods intended for Jews only. This, of course, is the settler problem along with the aggressive appropriation of land designed to create “facts on the ground.” Interestingly, much of this policy has made things even worse as it becomes increasingly difficult to divide Jerusalem and assign sections of the city to the Palestinians and others to the Israelis. And Palestinians consistently maintain that there will be no Palestinian state that does not include Jerusalem as its capital.

Finally, any future Jerusalem that has the Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem and Israel’s capital in the West must be the result of mutual agreement and acceptance because there cannot be a dividing line strictly separating the two sides. There must be free and easy movement if the religious sites of the old city are to be available to everyone.

The notion that the two state solution is dead because the United States will move (not until 2020) its embassy to Jerusalem is indefensible. A two state solution with Jerusalem as a capital for both sides has been a part of just about everybody’s proposal from Clinton, to Barak, to Olmert.

Trump’s speech did recognize a reality that negotiations and discussions between Israelis and Palestinians are still viable. And, on the contrary, this move by the United States does not distort the peace process but stimulates it.

 

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Jerusalem for Dummies

The essay title “Jerusalem for Dummies” has been taken (go here) but I thought it was sufficiently descriptive so I appropriated it. There are of course any number of places where one can read about the history of Jerusalem and its various twists and turns with respect to legal standing, cultural icon, religious center, and capital. But below is a brief overview that helps place Trump’s announcement in context. You can listen again to Trump here: Trump’s bold statement about Jerusalem and the Jews.

Historically, Jerusalem was a small town on the outskirts of the Ottoman Empire. It was mostly significant for religious reasons as water and natural resources were scarce and not particularly strategically located. But as time went on Jerusalem became symbolically more important and a tense mixture of politics and religion. One of the nearby hills in Jerusalem was called “Zion” and it became the term to refer to the entire area and the base of the word Zionism which is the modern movement calling for the reestablishment of the Jewish people and state.

Still, Jerusalem was never automatically assumed to be “Jewish” because of its significance for both Christianity and Islam. Jerusalem is significant to the three Abrahamic religions Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount is believed to be the place where Mohammed ascended to heaven. There is no denying the significance and importance of these religious sites and whatever ends up happening Jerusalem must ensure access to these holy places.

The Zionist leaders were mostly secular and were unsure about the significance of Jerusalem Or, shall we say, they were uncomfortable with the power of the religious connection to Jerusalem and did not want a future Jewish state to be overly religious.

It is significant that when the United Nations divided Palestine into two states (one Arab, one Jewish) in 1947, it left Jerusalem out of this equation. Jerusalem and its surroundings were designated as a separate territory to be overseen by an international body. Many Jews were unsure about this but were satisfied with relinquishing Jerusalem in order to establish the state. But when the Arabs rejected the plan to divide Palestine and attacked Israel Jews considered themselves no longer bound by the UN partition plan and moved in on Jerusalem militarily. At the end of the war of independence Israel had taken the Western part of the city, the Jordanians the Eastern part including the old city and significant religious sites. By now the significance of Jerusalem was increasingly apparent and Jews fixated their identities more on Jerusalem. The city was divided by the new state of Israel and Jordan.

Israel declared Jerusalem as its capital after annexing West Jerusalem. The Jordanians annexed East Jerusalem and there were two capitals up until the Six-Day War in 1967. For 19 years, 1948-1967, tensions between Israel and the Arab world remained and no progress was made on the status of Jerusalem or its unification. The city was not recognized as either Israeli or Jordanian. During the Six-Day War Israel captured East Jerusalem along with a few neighborhoods that were not historically in Jerusalem. Israel has moved all of its government offices to Jerusalem including the Knesset and has consolidated their presence in the city.

Israel’s position is that they are not bound by the UN partition plan or the original partition of Palestine because they acquired Western Jerusalem while defending themselves. The two sides have hardened their position as Israel would now never give up Jerusalem as its capital and the Palestinians maintain a belief in their rights to the city also. Very little progress has ever been made on the status of Jerusalem and the city remains confused according to international law as well as the contradicting claims of each side.

For these reasons official recognition of Jerusalem has been moot for most countries. But Donald Trump changed all that.

Incomplete Theorization: A New Way to Think about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Some problems can’t be solved. The fundamental assumptions and philosophy of two competing sides ensnared in the problem cannot be reconciled. Let me elaborate with an example:

There is a concept used by myself and conflict resolution specialists, a concept in particular associated with work by Cass Sunstein, called incomplete theorization. Sunstein, as a lawyer, is concerned with constitutionalism and how you write such constitutions that are effective when people disagree about so many things. Here is how Sunstein poses the issue. Again, he is talking about constitutions but tell me whether or not incomplete theorization sounds like the primary conundrum for the Israelis and Palestinians.

Incompletely theorized agreements help illuminate an enduring constitutional puzzle: how members of diverse societies can work together in terms of mutual respect amidst intense disagreements about both the right and the good.

People often agree on practices but not on theories. Therefore many problems have to be solved as incompletely theorized agreements. Sunstein continues:

The agreement on particulars is incompletely theorized in the sense that the relevant participants are clear on the practice or the result without agreeing on the most general theory that accounts for it. Often people can agree that a rule—protecting political dissenters, allowing workers to practice their religion—makes sense without entirely agreeing on the foundations of their belief.

Incomplete theorization has the advantage of turning attention away from difficult philosophical issues which are typically a combustible mix of foundational beliefs that cannot be reconciled. Moreover, attention to concrete practices has a better chance of success and acceptance which can likely lead to other areas of agreement as participants practice the habits of agreement.

So, let’s incompletely theorize an issue for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The division of Jerusalem into municipalities will not be solved by weighty discussions of Jerusalem’s history and who has rights conferred by kings or gods. But East Jerusalem neighborhoods are home to 300,000 Palestinians–and no Jews. The parties can’t wait for philosophical issues to be solved about historic Jerusalem. Separating the neighborhood would reduce the number of West Bank Palestinians subject to direct Israeli rule and remove a serious point of contention. Also, it would lighten Israel’s economic burden. Moving the security fence away from a hostile population, rather than moving people, would certainly be easier and less traumatic. Both Israelis and Palestinians would benefit without agreeing to any kind of philosophical supporting rationale.

Here’s another incompletely theorized condition.

Israel has serious security issues and must remain in control of the “West Bank.” However, Palestinians should have full autonomy as an “unincorporated territory.” Until the Palestinians agree to peace with Israel, they could be welcomed as partners in the Israeli economic system and should be able to fully participate in Israel’s commercial and creative life. Even without statehood, in less than a generation the Palestinians could become more prosperous and prepare one day for peace.

If one thought this through I would expect there are many practicalities that could be achieved without the burden of deeper philosophical rationales.

 

Are Things the Same Between Hezbollah and Israel?

Hezbollah (“the Party of God”) continues to cast its extremist rhetoric in Israel’s direction but we are at a confluence of events that make war possible. Typically, Hezbollah devotes much of its time to overheated rhetoric directed toward Israel and the Zionist enterprise. It is possible to ignore or at least pay little attention to Hezbollah’s bloated rhetoric. But some differences are morphing into a political environment that just might ignite violence from Hezbollah or perhaps Israel.

First, Hezbollah has been a powerful and overwhelming presence in Lebanon such that Israel is convinced that there is little difference between Lebanon and Hezbollah. The political and government structures of Lebanon have been thoroughly penetrated by Hezbollah. Consequently, Israel is threatening violence against Lebanon on the assumption that there is no difference between the two and attacking Lebanon is by definition attacking Hezbollah.

Furthermore, Hezbollah poses a number of genuine threats to Israel some of which Israel has not taken seriously enough yet. Hezbollah, for example, has built up a weapons cache that can inflict considerable pain and damage on Israel. Hezbollah keeps claiming that damage to Israel in the next war will be greater than ever and they are potentially right.

Hezbollah’s agenda has been reinforced by its victories or gains in Syria and Lebanon and they just might be “feeling their oats.” Still, Israel does not respond to Hezbollah with overwhelming force with the goal of defeating it thoroughly. Critics in Israel keep turning their attention to the military and saying, ”what are you waiting for?” The time to deal a final blow to Hezbollah is now and Israel should not wait until Hezbollah damages cities and destroys infrastructure. It appears that Israel has already conceded the first strike option – at least that’s what Netanyahu wants you to think.

There are, however, good reasons for avoiding war with Hezbollah and that has to do with the fact that this would essentially mean a war with Iran also. For starters, Hezbollah does not need a war with Israel while it is making progress in places like Syria and Iraq. Moreover, Hezbollah is spread out over large geographic areas and in no coherent position to deploy militarily against Israel. And Israel might know it has to engage Hezbollah one day but also knows that such engagement has a high cost attached to it. Hezbollah has an increasingly large arsenal of rockets and they will do plenty of damage. Additionally, Hezbollah has been working with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard to form Shiite militias which can be called upon to join forces with the core Hezbollah military units.

The average Hezbollah or Quds recruit grew up on “divine victory” and the “glorious battles” in the name of Allah. Given the interpenetration of religion and the state in Iran fighting battles and dying is a religious experience. But even the most compliant Hezbollah recruit knows that he sees more blood, loss of livelihood, and dim future than any “divine victories.” The Washington Institute for Near East Policy reports that many members of Hezbollah are disillusioned and there is discontent.

In the end, both Hezbollah and Israel have serious issues to consider. Neither wants to initiate a first strike but neither side wants to be the recipient of a first strike. Both sides will inflict considerable damage on the other but also suffer it. And both sides, with the use of violence, will initiate a sequence of events that have implications for other countries and unknown consequences. This is all to say, I suppose, that nothing has changed.

 

 

Danger to the U.S. Drips from Trump

You know you’re under the jackboot of second-rate leadership when that leader invokes the cartoonish and overheated rhetoric of Armageddon or the Apocalypse. Trump’s threat to hit North Korea with “fire and fury like the world has never seen” is ignorant, unhelpful, potentially dangerous, and represents little talent and sophistication with respect to international affairs. He has done nothing more than put himself on the same plane as pathetic terrorists who mistake their rhetorical fury for reality. I suggest the readers of this blog get together with a few friends for drinks and see how many of these puerile hyped-up platitudes they can come up with. Here, I will get you started.

“Allah will unleash the fires of hell to consume the infidel in Allah’s glory.”

“The Jewish trickster conspires to mongrelize White America by pumping black blood of Africa into his veins.”

“The coming race wars will scorch and then cleanse the earth as it awaits the rebirth of the white race.”

You get the picture. Even these exaggerated for humor sayings can’t seem to avoid some common themes: typically, something is “contaminated” and it is “cleansed” by fire. For the racist it’s the nonwhite race that is contaminated and fire will wipe it away until the new dawn of White supremacy awakens. For the Muslim extremist the “fires” consume the enemy rather than cleanse the earth, as the terrorists see the destruction of the world. Jews are not typically associated with fire but they are with blood given the historic blood libels. And the Jew is a “trickster.” He is clever and manipulative and not to be trusted.

Trump, of course, has no more to offer than the standard apocalyptic refrain of “fire and fury.” He has probably seen too many movies. But his discourse is consistent. It’s the rhetoric of nativism and certainly aligned with slogans to “make America great again” or “America first”.

This nativist discourse is relatively standard and on par with the profiles of intergroup conflict. That is, there is (a) a clear ingroup-outgroup distinction where the ingroup is favored and the outgroup as disfavored along with all of the exaggerations and distortions that accompany an ingroup-outgroup distinction;(b) the outgroup is demonized; and (c) the outgroup is rhetorically conquered. There is nothing wrong with trying to rhetorically control the outgroup – that is essentially what campaigns and social movements do but within the confines of normative democratic discourse.

Trump is frighteningly irresponsible. For the President of the United States, not some tin can leader, to engage in this brinkmanship with his shallow knowledge of the target culture, and the fact that fire will be returned with near certainty, can only be explained by the President’s personal macho and certainly not by any coherent policy of international relations.

And the childishness of it all. There is not even what anyone would consider to be even a remotely justifiable reason. This is just name-calling. Of all the sophisticated conflict resolution work and research, the answer in this case is simply to shut up and stand down.

 

 

Evaluating Obama’s Presidency

Sure, it’s early to pass much reliable judgment on Obama’s presidency but I’m going to do it anyway. Obama was a young and relatively inexperienced political leader who, on balance, had a more successful presidency than not. A few books are already beginning to appear (Peter Baker’s Obama, Jonathan Chait’s Audacity) and many of the judgments coming from seasoned journalists and observers are positive. Obama made some mistakes and had his share of failures like any president.

But he was a gifted campaigner who promised hope and change through moderate political ideology. Obama was the darling of the liberal left and the bane of the conservative right. His most notable success was the Affordable Care Act which originated in conservative think tanks. It should have been a first-rate piece of social policy providing medical coverage for people who couldn’t afford it. But the rank polarization and competitive hate between the two parties meant that the nature of the Affordable Care Act would be distorted (calling it “socialized medicine”) and it would be subject to extreme ideological clashes.

The Affordable Care Act was flawed and needed fixing but it was fixable. Currently 20 million people have health insurance who would not have had it without the Affordable Care Act. Continued progress needs to be made on cost containment, financial incentives for health exchanges, and coverage that’s more attractive to young people but none of these represents a fatal blow and the acrimony and contentiousness surrounding them is testimony to the level of disgust each side as for the other.

Opponents of the Affordable Care Act have convinced the public (mostly by the incessant use of the term Obamacare) that the legislation is more extreme and damaging than it actually is. The fact that most polls show that the public approves of the Affordable Care Act, and the absolute failure of the Republicans to repeal and replace it, is testimony to the quality of the legislation.

Obama made progress in early childhood education programs, seeking sources of alternative energy, and helped make climate change an issue for serious consideration.

When it comes to foreign policy Obama looked around and saw messes everywhere. The Middle East, Israel-Palestine, radical Salafists, unstable countries with nuclear weapons (Pakistan, North Korea), religious extremist countries who wanted nuclear weapons (Iran), al Qaeda, ISIS, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, are all potentially dangerous. There is something to be said for his cool demeanor and conclusion that an armed United States meddling in these problems would probably make matters worse. He used special operations and limited warfare strategically. He was not afraid to use the military (bin Laden) when necessary and clearly appropriate.

Obama did make a mistake with Bashar Assad. His statement about a “redline” was naïve and foolish and he stood on the sidelines while hundreds of thousands of Syrians were killed in the Civil War.

In the end, Obama was a diligent and elegant political leader who was knowledgeable and informed. He could be “cool” and therefore thought to be aloof but I prefer that to Trump’s exaggeration of threat. And we should not forget that his political enemies (e.g. Mitch McConnell) made it their life’s work to see the President of the United States failed. Mitch McConnell was so quick to announce that he was going to guarantee Obama’s failure, regardless of the issues, that I figured something other than policy had to be motivating McConnell. I’m just sayin’.

 

The Coming Kurdish Referendum.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the Kurds and their quest for independence and the establishment of a Kurdish state. That piece was published in the Jerusalem Post and you can access it here. On September 25, 2017 the Kurdistan regional government (KRG) will vote on a referendum on independence. Support for the referendum – and nobody expects it to fail – fulfills a Kurdish dream. The proposed Kurdish state would be in the Iraqi Kurdish region which has begun to establish some state institutions and has enough resources to sustain the new state.

But the interesting question is how the Kurds proceed after the referendum vote. The Iraqis are assuming that support for the referendum would simply open up conversations and negotiations concerning outside issues. In fact, the referendum will not change much on the ground but will send a message to the Iraqis and the rest of the world that Kurdish independence should be respected.

The referendum is actually a rhetorical device that expresses Kurdish recognition and their commitment to a democratic process that indicates serious intent. The Kurds have been slow to develop their own cultural and political institutions (not entirely their fault) and in the past have been more interested in concessions from Baghdad such as the Federalist structure that now governs the relationship between the Kurds and the Iraqis.

There remains opposition to Kurdish independence, even on the part of the United States, when the broader array of complex international relations is taken into account. Most notably, the United States always has to consider its relationship with Turkey. The Turks have had a contentious relationship with the Kurds for a long time and view some Kurdish political groups as a threat to the stability of Turkey. One goal for Kurdish leaders is to convince Turkey that they are no threat. Moreover, the US while supportive of the Kurds in many ways still uses them to manage the US relationship with Iraq. So the US has told the Kurds that they can do nothing toward independence or changing their status that threatens a stable relationship with Iraq.

In an interview with Bilal Wahab, a Fellow at the Washington Institute, he makes the case that the Kurds remain unready for independence and there are still many questions for the multi-ethnic state to answer. There are religious minorities (Yazidis, Zoroastrians) and ethnic minorities (Arabs, Turkmen) all of which must be integrated into some semblance of a democratic society. Is it going to be a true liberal democracy where all groups are equal in the eyes of the law, or is one group, namely Kurds, going to be privileged. Moreover, what about the question of those Kurds in other countries such as Turkey and Syria? Will they be welcome?

The Kurds have been promised a homeland and independence since World War I. There referendum for independence is a good start and I support it all of its rhetorical and practical deficiencies notwithstanding. But the journey from a discriminated against ethnic group to an independent state is a long and twisted one. Still, the Kurds are in line to start this journey with an initial “Declaration of Independence.”

 

 

The Legal Status of the West Bank

Sign posts are seen in front of the West Bank Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim near Jerusalem November 13, 2013. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Wednesday his peace negotiators had resigned over the lack of progress in U.S.-brokered statehood talks clouded by Israeli settlement building. REUTERS/Ammar Awad (WEST BANK – Tags: POLITICS) – RTX15BNL

 

The legal status of the West Bank has been a thorny issue wrapped in confusion, historical change, as well as ideological motivations at the expense of legal clarity. Below is a brief treatment of the issues pertaining to the legal status of the West Bank and it is designed to be an introductory overview. I would direct the reader who seeks additional information to another brief synopsis published recently in the Jerusalem Post Magazine titled: “50 Years of Law Versus Reality” (www.jpost.com May 26, 2017). Also listen to and read the work of Eugene Kontorovich at: http://insct.syr.edu/legal-case-israels-settlements/ a legal expert who devotes scholarly attention to the issue. Below is my own distillation of the issues, based on the above sources, designed to establish some foundation for discussion.

Israel never imagined there would be 400,000 Jews living in the West Bank in a complex and politically charged project called the “settlements.” The land mass that includes the West Bank has been of questionable and debatable legal status for the last 50 years for sure but even before that. What is currently referred to as the West Bank was the outskirts of the Ottoman Empire who were defeated in World War I. The land became part of the British mandate and slipped into additional confusion about who had legal rights. When Israel took control of the land after Israel was attacked in 1967 (the Six-Day War) it fell into the category of “belligerent occupation.” This is a category of international law that requires the conquering force to adhere to a few rules of occupation. Under belligerent occupation the occupying force maintains the rights of the local people, agrees not to change the face of the land, and means that it cannot annex the land but is holding it temporarily. When land is acquired through force or war belligerent occupation is a mechanism for maintaining citizen rights and allowing political decisions to develop.

One of the controversies and difficulties about the legal status of the West Bank is whether or not to apply the principles of The Hague Regulations or the Geneva Convention. Belligerent occupation is a principal from The Hague regulations. The Geneva Convention requires more humanitarian rule even including returning conquered land. But the Israelis argued that Jordan was not a legitimate owner because they had only recently annexed the West Bank in the 1948 war. So Israel argued that it took disputed land from a wartime situation and did not conquer it from a sovereign nation, that is, they did not conquer the land from a legitimate state namely Jordan.

This is a key legal issue: did Israel acquire the West Bank from a legitimately recognized state that had sovereign power, which means according to the Geneva Accords Israel has obligations for peace negotiations, or was the West Bank genuinely disputed property.

The argument by Israel that all of the West Bank was negotiable provided justification for the ballooning settlements. As the settlements have developed, historical and legal arguments about the rights of the Jewish people – supported by a variety of historical documents ranging from the Bible to the Balfour declaration – have become more pronounced. The preponderance of evidence supports the notion that acquiring land by building settlements is illegal. But, on the other hand, Israel argues that it is still engaged in belligerent occupation and protecting the rights of the local inhabitants, that is, the Palestinians.

The legal status of the land acquired in 1967 is clearly debatable such that there are legal principles under which Israel is culpable according to international law, or principles that support Israel’s presence. In either case, the current situation is not sustainable.

 

 

 

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.

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.

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