By: Farah Najjar
Source: Al Jazeera
US President Donald Trump has arrived in Israel as part of his first foreign trip since taking office in January, but critics have already dismissed as lip service his vows to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.
The trip will include bilateral meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas, who was in Washington earlier this month to pledge his support to a renewed peace process.
But experts note that the Trump administration’s “unwavering support” for the state of Israel will render any potential negotiations futile.
“They [US administration] will fall over themselves loving Israel to get elected, come to their senses a bit when in office, then pay lip service to peace while serving the strategic alliance between the US and Israel by blindly supporting Israel,” Sam Bahour, a Palestinian-American political commentator based in Ramallah, told Al Jazeera.
Mouin Rabbani, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Institute for Palestine Studies, described the prospect of a peace deal as “hot air”, highlighting the lack of any concrete plan.
“There is no American plan to negotiate an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, nor are there any indications that one will be forthcoming, nor is there any basis on which to speculate what such a plan might entail should it actually materialise,” he said.
Since the failure of the 1993 Oslo Accords, US-led initiatives to revive a peace deal have been fruitless, leaving Palestinians with the PA, a provisional self-governing authority.
In an effort to salvage elements of the Oslo Accords, including concerns over territory, settlements, Palestinian refugees and the right of return, former US President Bill Clinton attempted to revive negotiations and reach a final-status agreement during the Camp David Summit in 2000, but the process failed – and ongoing developments, including the continued growth of illegal Jewish settlements in occupied Palestine, have stymied peace efforts in the ensuing years.
Experts believe that Trump, who is developing an even warmer relationship with Israel than previous US presidents, will have little influence in terms of stripping Israel of its preconditions to peace.
“Israel has consistently used negotiations as a facade to maintain its settlement expansion policies. That policy will persist under the Trump administration,” Tareq Baconi, a US-based policy fellow at Al-Shabaka Palestinian Policy Network, told Al Jazeera.
Since Trump took office, Israel has authorised the construction of 3,000 additional illegal settlement homes and announced, for the first time in 20 years, the building of a new settlement in the occupied West Bank. The controversial new US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, who officially took up his post this month, is a strong supporter of settlements.
Friedman’s appointment, which generated significant backlash among members of the Senate foreign relations committee and American Jewish organisations, highlights the inability and unwillingness of the US to act as an honest broker in the region, analysts say.
“A person such as Friedman, with his declared conflict of interest with his material support to the illegal Israeli settlement enterprise, has a great potential to make permanent damage to the US strategic interests in Palestine/Israel,” Bahour said.
Friedman has previously expressed doubt over a potential two-state solution, which has traditionally been the bedrock of US diplomacy, and called for moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Though Israel claims Jerusalem is the capital of its state, its jurisdiction over the city is internationally unrecognised. Under the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan, Jerusalem was meant to be internationally administered.
In 1967, Israel illegally occupied the eastern half of Jerusalem, and in 1980, passed a law declaring it as the eternal and undivided capital of Israel.
Considering US financial and military support for Israel, the viability of the country acting as a mediator for peace negotiations has long been questioned. Israel is the largest cumulative recipient of US foreign aid, receiving more than $233bn since its inception in 1948.
Over the next decade, the US will give Israel another $38bn, the largest foreign aid package in US history. The agreement was brought about by former US President Barack Obama’s administration, just a few months before Trump took office.
At the same time, the duties and role of the PA over the years in achieving Palestinian self-determination have increasingly been questioned. In recent months, Palestinians in the occupied territories have renewed their condemnation of Israel-PA security coordination, which they perceive as directly conflicting with Palestinian resistance to the occupation.
Under Trump, the controversial policy of security coordination is likely to continue: “They work together beautifully,” Trump said during a joint press conference with Abbas in the White House.
Haidar Eid, an associate professor of post-colonial literature at al-Aqsa University in Gaza, noted that the PA’s commitment to security coordination with Israel and the “so-called peace process” will ensure its continued relevance in US-led negotiations.
“The moment it moves away from those two pillars of American policy in the Middle East, it loses its role,” Eid told Al Jazeera, describing peace talks as a “charade” that have failed to exert any real pressure on Israel. “In a nutshell, Palestinian basic rights, including the right to self-determination, are not on the agenda of the Trump administration.”
Although Trump recently dropped the long-standing US commitment to a two-state solution, Bahour says this is not the real issue.
“Palestinians have already defined their self-determination in terms of a state. More than 130 countries already recognised that state. So today, the issue is not one or two states; it’s how to make the Palestinian state reality on the ground,” Bahour noted. “The fear is that the PA, or to be more exact, the state of Palestine, will be pressured to submit to an agreement that cannot be implemented.”
Baconi suggested that Washington’s primary aim is to strengthen Israel’s ties with other regional countries – “effectively attempting to bypass the Palestinians and produce a broader peace between Israel and its neighbours.
“This approach builds on the expanding rhetoric of Israeli-Sunni alliances. So far, this rhetoric has not produced anything concrete, and it is unlikely to do so if it comes at the cost of Palestinian rights,” Baconi added.
The decision by the Gaza-based Hamasmovement to issue – just days before Abbas visited the White House – a new political document recognising the 1967 borders was no coincidence, Eid said. Still, Hamas is likely to continue to be sidelined in any future negotiations.
“I think that under the Trump administration, there is even less hope that any effort to engage with Hamas will be successful,” Baconi said.
“It will certainly be the case that Israel’s expected assault on the Gaza Strip will receive less push-back from a Trump administration … In the absence of any external cost that can be imposed on Israel to force it to relinquish its control of the Palestinian territories or to abide by international law, the dynamic on the ground is likely to be maintained.”
On Sunday, Trump addressed the leaders of 55 Muslim countries in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and said they must take the lead in combating “radicalisation”. “The true toll of ISIS [the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant], al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, and so many others, must be counted not only in the number of dead. It must also be counted in generations of vanished dreams,” said Trump in the speech.
Hamas Movement has rejected Trump’s comments saying it shows his “complete bias” towards Israel.
“The statement describing Hamas as a terror group is rejected and is a distortion of our image and shows a complete bias to the Zionist occupation,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said in a statement on Sunday.