For all his bluster during the election campaign, US President Trump has offered no clear indication which way his Middle East policy will go. The president has prevaricated on his election promise to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, implementing the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act; he said he can live with a one-state solution or a two state solution, but he “like[s] the one that both parties like”.
While acknowledging that the deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians is the “toughest deal to make” he said he wanted to “prove [them] wrong” and “get it done”. As the self-proclaimed ultimate deal maker, he will begin his one-week tour of the Middle East this week after which we should have a better idea of what his vision of “the mother of all deals” looks like.
We will see if his sanguine attitude to the issue is an indication of his consummate deal making ability or, as is more likely, a reflection of the naivety of a man who knows very little about the problem and is thoughtless concerning the impact of his failure.
Thus far, Trump’s prevarication has served him well but it can no longer continue. For a start his creditors are keen to see if their investment has gone to waste. Prominent American Jewish donors are agitating over the delay in implementing his campaign policy to relocate the US embassy to Jerusalem.
Casino mogul and Republican donor Sheldon Adelson is reportedly furious over the administration’s delay in fulfilling the president’s campaign pledge to relocate the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Adelson, a prominent donor who backed Trump’s 2016 campaign to the tune of $25 million and who is also a close friend of the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was angered by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s comments. Speaking to the press Tillerson said that the “the president is being very careful to understand how such a decision would impact a peace process” before going on to suggest that Israel itself might be less than fully committed to a move, according to AFP.
While the casino tycoon’s spokesperson denied that Adelson was angry, he is said to be looking forward to hearing when the administration is planning to announce the embassy move.
The fury of donors may be less concerning for Trump than the disappointment felt by the Israeli government if the proposed embassy move does not go ahead. Netanyahu is also eager for the move to go ahead and was quick to dismiss any questions about Israel’s stance on the matter.
“Israel’s position has been stated many times to the American administration and to the world,” his office said in a statement.
Moving the American embassy to Jerusalem would not harm the peace process. On the contrary, it would advance it by correcting an historical injustice and by shattering the Palestinian fantasy that Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel
the statement read.
Trump’s mixed messages have been interpreted by some as an opportunity for Israel to complete its annexation. Senior members of his administration have told Israeli officials that Trump presented a great opportunity for the country observing that a peace deal between Israel and Palestine is highly unlikely. Senior advisors are said to be less than optimistic that such a deal can be brokered and have made their scepticism clear to the president. Even US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, reportedly warned the president against brokering a comprehensive deal.
Israeli politicians strongly opposed to a Palestinian state are using Trump’s visit to assert their opposition to Palestinian self-determination and the two-state solution. Its former Minister of Justice, Ayelet Shaked, insisted that the “the gaps between us and the Palestinians is very large”. Emphasising her maximalist position, the member of the Jewish Home party told Israeli journalists that she instructed Netanyahu to tell Trump that there cannot be a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders.
In contrast Palestinians and their Arab neighbours have re-asserted their commitment to a Palestinian state, in anticipation of the visit. Jordan, Palestine and Egypt yesterday reiterated their pledge to support a two-state solution as the only answer to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Jordan’s Foreign Minister, Ayman Safadi, met in Amman with his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shukri, and Saeb Erekat, Palestine Liberation Organistaion’s executive committee’s secretary and chief Palestinian negotiator, to discuss future steps regarding the peace process, a “priority issue” for the region, Safadi told reporters.
Hamas too, for the first time, agreed last month to accept a sovereign Palestinian state across the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital.
It would seem that Trump’s moment of truth has arrived. He can no longer continue to stall and prevaricate. The entire Middle East is rallying behind the international consensus in anticipation of his visit to the region, while Israeli politicians and some senior members of his administration are expecting him to strike a final blow to Palestinian self-determination. Trump may want to strike a deal but he has to tell the world which deal he wants to strike.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.