White House time warp is an attempt to roll back Oslo deal
A FEELING has emerged in recent days that the Trump administration has taken to reenacting the battles of thirty years ago in the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Its announcement on Monday that it was closing down the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s (PLO) office in Washington was an echo of a debate going back to the days of the Carter and Reagan administrations over whether the US should be talking to the PLO at all. And if it should not, the debate went, should it engage with the Palestinian national cause at all?
The feeling of a being in a timewarp was compounded by the revelation that President Donald Trump’s representatives had proposed to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that, instead of a Palestinian state, he explore the idea of a federation with the Kingdom of Jordan. That idea was last in vogue in the mid-1980s.
It has coincided with the rueful 25-year anniversary of the Oslo accords and the feeling among many that nothing has moved forward for a quarter of a century and may now be going backwards.
Since his election, Mr Trump has spoken of his aspiration to deliver the “ultimate deal” for Israelis and Palestinians. In his first meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House in February 2017, he signaled that he was prepared to break with diplomatic orthodoxies, saying that “I’m looking at two-state [solutions] and at one-state and I like the one that both parties like.”
Since then, Mr Trump does not seem to have come up with an idea of quite how to end the conflict, but he is surrounded by aides and advisors with ideas of their own. Vice President Mike Pence, representing the Christian Evangelicals in the White House, was the main force behind last year’s decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem. The trio of American-Jewish advisors — Jared Kushner, Stanley Greenblatt and Ambassador David Friedman — were all part of the pro-settler camp before taking office and are unlikely to have changed their views since. They are joined by the latest addition, the new National Security Advisor John Bolton. One of the neoconservative “hawks” of the George W Bush era, Mr Bolton believes that the Palestinian issue is a sideshow, which must be set aside so the US can focus on confronting its real enemy in the Middle East, Iran.
While there are nuances between the three approaches, they all share a joint goal in trying to rewind history to before the Oslo accords and, if possible, even a couple of decades earlier to before the Carter administration, which was the first to make a priority of addressing the Palestinian issue. On this they are all closely coordinated with Mr Netanyahu, both directly and though his confidant Ron Dermer, Israel’s long-serving ambassador to the US.
Mr Netanyahu officially accepted the two-state formulation in his Bar John Bolton, the newest appointee
Ilan speech of 2009, but has been spending the past three years trying to walk back those remarks. The Trump administration, with its proposals and announcements, including in recent weeks on cutting financial support for the Palestinians, has helped him in doing this.
But whether or not a two-state solution remains viable — and under the current leaders in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Washington, it clearly is not — does not change the fact that five million Palestinians live in the West Bank and Gaza under Palestinian Authority and Hamas control.
Even if they are no longer to be regarded as “refugees”, they are still there, under varying degrees of Israeli military rule.
The Trump administration, with Mr Netanyahu cheering it on, has almost swept away all vestiges of the Oslo Process, but has yet to come up with any proposals for replacing it.
Bolton believes the Palestinian issue is a sideshow
PLO offices in Washington, which are to be closed