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The Middle East Peace Process: A Cruel Joke

Three brief reports on January 25 concerning Israel-Palestine-US relations sum up the new situation created by Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the US embassy there in the near future. First is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s absurd claim that there is “no substitute for the United States as honest broker.” His notion that “there is no one else” who can deliver peace is disproven by years of fruitless, one-sided US diplomacy that have amply demonstrated Washington’s incapacity to broker a just peace.

Netanyahu followed up his comment with a predictable endorsement of Trump’s “peace” team led by Jared Kushner. “The thing people don’t realize is these people have made their mark in markets in real-estate,” he said. Shouldn’t that background be a liability? Not to Netanyahu, who managed to rationalize Kushner’s phantom peace plan by saying in one breath that while peacemaking “is not a real estate deal,” boundary questions comprise “real estate elements and they’re [the Kushner team]—I have to say—very creative. I wait to see what they put down, but I don’t rule it out,” he added.

Well, Mr. Prime Minister, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict isn’t like a real estate transaction. It’s a conflict over two equally legitimate historic claims to sacred land—claims that Israel, however, has backed by force and repressive social and economic policies in occupied territory. The Kushner business-first team’s experiences are totally irrelevant to those matters. But in thinking otherwise, the prime minister is perfectly in line with the Trump administration, which preaches peace but, far from promoting a search for common ground, overwhelmingly favors the Israeli right wing, arms the Israeli military to the teeth, and, like Netanyahu, opposes pressing for a two-state solution.

When John Kerry was about to leave his post as President Obama’s secretary of state, he made a searing speech highly critical of the Netanyahu administration, which he called “the most right-wing in Israeli history with an agenda driven by the most extreme elements.” A belated indictment, to be sure; but contrast Kerry’s words with the resumption of unqualified US praise for Israel, such as Mike Pence displayed on his recent visit to Israel. Christian groups as well as Palestinian officials boycotted the visit in protest of the Jerusalem decision and the notion that only one side really wants peace. Listen to Ambassador Nikki Haley saying that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas lacks “courage and will to seek real peace,” and that the US “will not chase after” the Palestinians.

Such a chastisement of Israel will never pass the lips of a Trump official. Far from it, the administration will keep rewarding Israel for its intransigence while punishing the Palestinians for rejecting US pressure. At the just-concluded Davos conclave, for instance, Trump threatened that “money’s not going to them [the Palestinians] unless they sit down and negotiate peace.” What peace? Abbas’ spokesman declared to CNN: “If Jerusalem is off the table, then America is off the table as well.”

As of now, there is no honest broker and there is no peace process—facts that prolong the Israeli Occupation and further undermine Palestinian hopes for internationally recognized statehood and a better life.

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Mel Gurtov is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University, Editor-in-Chief of Asian Perspective, an international affairs quarterly and blogs at In the Human Interest.

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