by Paul Pillar
President Trump’s expressed desire to resolve, somehow, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is welcome, but the grounds for skepticism about this outweigh the reasons for hope. The principal reason for skepticism is the lack of evidence that Trump has distanced himself politically from the position, embodied in the right-wing Israeli government and its most ardent American supporters, that favors perpetual Israel control of the occupied territories and, despite occasional lip service to the contrary, sees no room for Palestinian self-determination or a Palestinian state. As a presidential candidate, Trump assumed this position after coming to terms with Sheldon Adelson and adopting AIPAC’s talking points as his own. As president, this position was manifested in his appointing as ambassador to Israel his bankruptcy lawyer, a hard-right supporter of the Israeli settlement project in the occupied territories. This week, in a joint appearance at the White House with Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, Trump talked in general terms about working together to reach an agreement to live in peace, and in more specific terms about defeating ISIS and security cooperation with Israel, but said nothing at all about Palestinian self-determination or a Palestinian state.
One might also wonder whether this issue will be another one that gets the amateur hour treatment, in which the president comes to admit that, gee, this task is harder than he expected it to be. With his bankruptcy lawyer having been sent off as ambassador, Trump has turned the Israeli-Palestinian policy portfolio over to his son-in-law and his real estate lawyer. Of course, given the many years of meager results on this subject when in the hands of supposedly experienced professionals, it might not hurt to see what the amateurs and some fresh eyes might accomplish. The real estate lawyer, Jason Greenblatt, received favorable marks from both the Israeli and Palestinian sides during a recent listening tour he made to the region.
But with the learning process for this president and this administration starting almost from scratch, Trump’s effort may already be behind the times. ***