A peace deal between Palestine and Israel remains elusive and now, likely impossible according to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. He made the remarks last Tuesday at a secret meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations where he spoke at length about the yet-to-be-unveiled peace plan the Trump Administration is working on.
In his speech, Pompeo touched on several sticking points that detractors are raising with Washington’s handling of the conflict. For starters, he expressed his own view, and perhaps even dismay, that the peace plan is taking longer than he had originally believed it would.
Trump famously declared he would broker the “deal of the century” between the warring Middle East factions. Almost immediately after assuming office, the responsibility fell to his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a real estate developer, and Jason Greenblatt, a former lawyer. Since then, there’s been little public discussion of an actual plan and mostly closed-door meetings between diplomats.
Pompeo is pessimistic about a peace plan winning over Israeli and Palestinian authorities and even public perception, whenever it is finally revealed.
It may be rejected. Could be in the end, folks will say, ‘It’s not particularly original, it doesn’t particularly work for me,’ that is, ‘it’s got two good things and nine bad things, I’m out,'” Pompeo told those in attendance.
The goal right now is simply to get both sides to the table to discuss the plan, a simple wish that might even be impossible. Public perception of the peace plan might already be one-sided in light of recent maneuvers by Trump to give more power to Israel. He began his tenure by relocating the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem thereby recognizing it as Israel’s capital, a move that the international community largely rebuked. Trump went on to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the contested Golan Heights and hit the Palestinian Authority economically by ending U.S. funding.
In two years, these three acts alone give an impression of pro-Israel bias that any potential to deal Washington cooks up will have to overcome before the parties meet at the negotiating table. For diplomacy to work, the intermediary must have at least a hint of acting in good faith for both parties and a shred of impartiality.
“I get why people think this is going to be a deal that only the Israelis could love,” he said. “I understand the perception of that. I hope everyone will just give the space to listen and let it settle in a little bit.”
Israel has historically been the U.S. strongest ally in the Middle East, so it’s natural that any plan would be slightly skewed in its favor. However, the plan is also being ironed out by two Orthodox Jews: Kushner and Greenblatt.
The plan also faces the challenge of working with an embattled Israeli Prime Minister. Although P.M. Benjamin Netanyahu won his reelection bid, he could not form a government. Israel will now have to wait until at least September until it has a functioning government which could have the authority to consider Trump’s plan.
Kushner met with Netanyahu on Thursday to discuss the plan which will likely skew the agreement even more to Israel’s side in an effort to get Netanyahu reelected in September, hopefully with a larger group of representatives from which he can form a coalition. He faces another, more-looming battle before the election, however: prison. He faces three charges for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. A court battle would certainly complicate the September 17 election.
Trump has often publicly expressed his support for the embattled P.M., calling him a “great guy” while expressing disappointment when Netanyahu failed to form a government.
Considering that there is currently no Israeli government to work with, Washington has a valid reason to hold off from publicly revealing its peace plan. At the same time, Kushner and Greenblatt can rework parts of the plan to favor Israel even more. In this way Netanyahu and Trump can parrot the plan as an accomplishment of the American – Israeli alliance.
“To get Netanyahu re-elected, Trump is clearly now willing to take instructions from him,” said Martin S. Indyk, a former American ambassador to Israel. In return, Netanyahu would likely give Trump an election boost by winning over American Jews and evangelicals because of their alliance.
All of this bodes ill for the long-term prospects of a workable peace plan. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas already decided to boycott an Israeli-Palestinian economic summit Kushner had arranged in Bahrain. The meeting would focus on the economic aspects of a relationship between the two factions without the polarizing political bits. Abbas politely said that both the deal and summit could “go to hell.”
The situation is looking more and more unwinnable all things considered and Pompeo’s admission of this is the first sign that expectations should be properly-managed. There will be no “deal of the century,” only a one-sided plan in favor of a beleaguered prime minister, a plan that has no hope of bridging the political divide between the factions.