Arafat duped Clinton. Will Abbas dupe Trump?
Will President Trump achieve the impossible breakthrough his predecessors were unable to accomplish? Or, like his predecessors, will he fall victim to two-faced Arab Palestinian leadership?
Let's not forget how hard President Bill Clinton tried to forge an agreement between Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak and PLO founder Yasser Arafat during the Camp David ll negotiations in 2000. Prior to negotiations, Arafat was all smiles and sounded committed to peace between the Arab Palestinians and Israel. Negotiations dragged on and on. Barak provided Arafat with an incredible offer, which would have placed Israeli security at great risk: virtually 100% of Judea and Samaria, commonly called the West Bank. Jerusalem would have been divided, and eastern Jerusalem would be awarded to the Arab Palestinians. A land bridge between Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip was included, effectively splitting Israel in half. Compensation for so-called refugees was included.
President Clinton would later say he could not believe how good the offer was. Yet all Arafat said was "no." In the end, Clinton was furious with him and publicly blamed him for the collapse of the talks. Subsequent to the failed negotiations, the Arab Palestinians rioted, and an extended intifada ensued.
Arafat fell from favor as far as Clinton was concerned. He learned a painful and embarrassing lesson: Arafat could not be trusted.
In 2002, when the late Ariel Sharon was prime minister, President George W. Bush was attempting to persuade Arafat to stop his terrorist activity and pursue peace with Israel. Sharon then dropped the hammer on the two-faced Arafat. He provided documents that proved that while Arafat kept up the diplomatic chatter, he was signing off on terrorist operations. Bush was angry and embarrassed. He had had faith that Arafat could be a genuine peace partner.
However, when Sharon proved Arafat to be a liar, Bush publicly called for Arafat's ouster. Relations between the Bush administration and Arafat went flat and never recovered.
Abbas Echoes Arafat
Subsequent to Bush came eight years of Obama. In 2008, another incredibly generous offer was put forth by Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert. This time, the recipient was Mahmoud Abbas, who had succeeded Arafat, who had passed away in 2004. Abbas rejected the offer out of hand. Abbas demanded that Israel halt "settlement" construction as a precondition for peace negotiations.
In an effort to entice Abbas to the table, Israel did stop construction for ten months. However, Abbas failed to return to negotiations. Obama was never able to achieve any measurable diplomatic breakthrough during his two terms as president.
Enter the Trump Era
He's called a peace agreement between Israel and the Arabs the "ultimate deal." He's met with Israeli prime minister Netanyahu and P.A. president Abbas. This past week, he made his first foreign trip as president. The first stop was Saudi Arabia, where he spoke to an assembled audience of 50 Arab leaders. The Saudi royal family rolled out the red carpet, signaling a clear departure from uneasy relations with the Obama administration.
In Trump's speech to the audience of Arab leaders, he said they must "drive out" the terrorists from their countries and from the Earth. These are the strongest words ever spoken by a U.S. president while in an Arab nation, speaking to Arab leaders. Trump also signaled that the Saudis are warm to his efforts to achieve a peace agreement with Israel.
Trump moved on and flew to Israel. He met with Mahmoud Abbas, who has already told Trump he is ready to begin negotiations with Israel right away...without preconditions. This is a departure from his long held position of demanding that Israel halt all construction before he would consider coming to the table.
The question arises: is Abbas sincere? Will he come to the table while Israel continues to build?
Something else noteworthy took place while President Trump delivered his remarks as he stood next to Abbas. Not once did Trump mention the words "Palestinian state," nor did he use the phrase "two-state solution."
While in Israel, Trump became the first sitting U.S. president to visit the Kotel (Western Wall). He also paid a visit to Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust memorial museum. While in Israel, he restated the U.S. commitment to Israel's security and promised a continued qualitative edge in weaponry for Israel.
Yet, as was the case in Bethlehem [not Ramallah –ed.] with Abbas, in all of Trump's remarks while in Israel, he neglected to use the terms "Palestinian state" and "two-state solution."
A Quid Pro Quo?
One cannot help but wonder what took place in the private discussion between Trump and Abbas as well as with Netanyahu. Did the Saudis whisper something in Trump's ear while he was there? Is there a quid pro quo brewing?
Will Donald Trump be able to achieve the impossible and forge an agreement between Israel and the Arab Palestinians as well as the Arab world in general? Is Mahmoud Abbas changing his colors and expressing genuine interest in peace with Israel? Will he sign off on what no other Palestinian leader has been willing to? Will he recognize Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state? Will he accept Israeli sovereignty over Temple Mount?
President Trump seems to suggest there is a fresh wind of optimism blowing through the halls of power in the Middle East. He is eager to facilitate the most dramatic diplomatic breakthrough ever in the Middle East. He deserves an opportunity to do the unthinkable.
What remains to be seen is what Abbas will do. Will he follow in the footsteps of his predecessor and say one thing publicly in English while continuing his Islamic agenda of terror when he speaks in Arabic? Will he string President Trump along, only to ultimately show his true colors and embarrass President Trump as Arafat did with two previous presidents?
Or will Abbas do what no other Arab Palestinian leader has done?
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