The automatic and most logical answer to this question is no. After all the conflict is regularly used as a byword for intractability and bringing it to a peaceful conclusion has been beyond a long list of leaders who’ve cared enough to try.
The odds are stacked against Trump being the one to succeed when others have failed. Despite being the author of ‘The Art of the Deal’, Trump himself has positioned himself more overtly on the side of the Israeli government than any of his predecessors. He has struck up a close personal relationship with Prime Minister Netanyahu and was willing to quickly move US policy on Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and now the West Bank to accommodate one side of the conflict.
Beyond his own personal connection and communications with Netanyahu, Trump has delegated the centre piece of his peace strategy to his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who has been charged with setting up the ‘deal of the century’, as it’s known, for Trump himself to seal.
This deal has been clouded in mystery from its inception and seemed strangely divorced from Trump’s policy actions, whether that be moving US policy in a more pro-Israeli direction or clamping down on the Palestinian leadership, ejecting the Palestinian Authority’s representative in Washington and squeezing aid to the UN who deliver vital public services to Palestinians.
Some of the delays in this long awaited ‘deal’ emerging were caused by turmoil in Israel’s own politics with one election not proving sufficient to deliver a stable government. This has allowed Kushner to manage expectations somewhat but now he faces a moment of truth at a conference in Bahrain later this month.
Pegged as an ‘economic workshop’ it reflects, many believe, a focus on a deal that emphasises the financial over the political in an attempt to find peace. It would appear to offer some radical economic incentives to the Palestinians whilst avoiding the most thorny political issues that have bedeviled the parties to the conflict over the last decades. When I say ‘avoiding’ what I mean is that Trump has already taken them off the table, souring relations with the Palestinians to the point in which they are not even expected to attend the Bahrain meeting.
A Bloomberg Opinion piece marked this moment with a piece entitled ‘Trump’s Peace Farce Just Got Even Sillier’. Indeed with the Israelis unable to agree on a government and the Palestinians boycotting the process it’s hard to see how any rapid peace process can succeed.
Where Trump may leave a deeper legacy on Israel-Palestine is in a redefinition of the parameters of any future solution. Previously US Presidents have tried to maintain a quasi-neutral broker position which never truly reflected the strategic depth of their alliance with Israel. Trump has embraced that relationship in the most overt manner possible forcing a familiar peace dynamic into flux.
This has the negative effects discussed earlier that would appear to put a solution along the lines of two-states as envisaged for the last thirty of so years in jeopardy, but it could also spawn a host of unpredicted consequences.
Could the Palestinian population, young, educated and disillusioned with a leadership who have been in place for decades, grasp and lead a new political approach to finding peace? Could the Europeans, so often in the shadows of US leadership in the region, find their voice and advocate more effectively for a sustainable process towards peace? Could the Gulf countries who have been increasingly filling the vacuum where US-leadership once stood, step up and again offer different avenues towards a peaceful future.
Some of the ideas that have leaked from the Kushner plan, including Gaza leasing land from northern Sinai to develop a deep water port and other snippets that envisaged Palestinian control over their own border crossings; should be seized on and explored with urgency.
That urgency is a reminder that the situation in the Occupied Territory, Gaza in particular, is by no means benign and peaceful but rather increasingly desperate. Over the last few months we are seeing worsening spikes in cross border violence, rockers and air strikes. It’s as if we are witnessing the seismic shudders before a huge earthquake, one that could set back all hopes of peace for a generation. It is for these reasons that we look to the conference in Bahrain with urgent hope rather than expectation.
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