The No-Deal Deal

The No-Deal Deal


Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

Since the days of at least President Lyndon Johnson there have been several cardinal rules to all Israeli negotiations with any Arab State and the Palestinians.  These were guidelines that Israel demanded and that all Israeli Governments followed. First, all negotiations were to be conducted directly by the parties themselves face to face (sometimes with the U.S. or another moderator). Second, while outside ideas and proposals were constantly being floated by American Governments as well as Arab States and international bodies, no Israeli Government adopted a  proposal presented by the U.S. as a basis for any of negotiating decision. Hard concessions were only achieved when negotiations were aggressively fought on both sides. No one could win, and both parties needed to lose. The goals of all needed to be respected.

In the past, Israel did make unilateral decisions–often with formal or private understandings with the U.S.  Frequently, Israeli Governments acted but only informed the U.S. afterwards. Most of the significant agreements and changes which have impacted the overall status between Israel and her neighbors were accomplished through face-to-face negotiations not through unilateral U.S. decisions.

Begin’s invitation to Sadat to come to Jerusalem was delivered and finessed by Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu not by President Jimmy Carter.  Similarly, the Oslo Accords between Yasser Arafat and Yitzchak Rabin were conducted and accomplished not through the diplomatic initiatives of Presidents George H.W. Bush or Bill Clinton, but by a group of very astute negotiators from the Norwegian Foreign Ministry.

This is part of the backdrop which makes President Trump’s Deal of the Century so problematic. While much of the thinking behind some parts of the plan are credible, it is not a proposal that demonstrates respect for both sides. During the Trump Administration, Israel clearly has been is in the driver’s seat. This deal, however, is not a proposal to be negotiated; rather, it is a political gift for Israel’s right-wing supporters in the United States as well as to help Netanyahu win over the right-wing parties in Israel’s forthcoming election.

Jared Kushner is hardly a serious Middle East diplomatic negotiator. The President probably does not begin to comprehend the history of the region and the nuances of Middle East politics. For Trump it is another political act of gamesmanship. Netanyahu will take away from the events on Tuesday whatever can help him politically, but no one believes that this proposal can become a reality.

While the Palestinians are clearly at a very weak moment politically today, like all Arabs they have a very long view of history. The present environment in the Middle East does not suggest the likelihood of a military confrontation emerging against Israel, except out of Iran. Mahmoud Abbas will not be President for very much longer and the Palestinians will bide their time.

The attendance of three major Gulf States at the White House’s launch of its plan as well as their statements need to be studied very carefully. Their absence of support for the Palestinians only indicates that at present they have a much greater need to respect Israeli military ability—especially to counter Iran—as well as the potential economic benefits for their own countries from the U.S. and Israel. No one should assume that the Saudi’s and the Emirates will forsake their Palestinian brothers and sisters over the long term; which is the way they measure time in the Arab world.

Finally, whatever transitory benefits Israel will gain if it proceeds to implement some of the proposals in the plan, it is strictly a political device for the U.S. and Netanyahu. It is certainly not a constructive roadmap for peace for the Holy Land.


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