The Palestinians could use some Trump pressure
Obama was a sensible, understanding guy. He knew the limits of American power and was careful not to overstep them.
Iran installs uranium-enrichment centrifuges, engages in nuclear warhead design, develops long-range missiles? Mr. Obama, realizing the unstoppable will of the Iranians to build an atom bomb, bowed to the inevitable and wisely decided on palliative measures, negotiating a ten-year delay in production of Iranian weapons, granting in exchange legality to the Iranian nuclear project.
Bashar Assad uses chemical weapons, which Mr. Obama warned him not to use? Realizing how little a U.S. military strike would achieve, Mr. Obama wisely refrained from retaliating.
North Korea is hell-bent on putting the U.S. within its nuclear range? With great wisdom, Mr. Obama realized that nothing could be done to stop it and did nothing.
To judge by the Tomahawk strike on the Syrian airfield from which Assad's latest chemical attack was launched, by his ordering a carrier group to move within striking distance of North Korea, by his rhetoric of putting Iran on notice that its violations will no longer be observed with a blind eye, it looks as if Mr. Trump is not as understanding as Mr. Obama was and is not willing to just wisely accept the inevitable. In fact, he clearly appears to think nothing is inevitable, that events can be controlled, outcomes shaped, and bad actors restrained and neutralized.
Given that kind of philosophy, Mr. Trump's approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict is one of today's hot topics. After all, he just hosted Palestinian president Abbas; in a couple of weeks, he will go on his first overseas trip, visiting among other places Saudi Arabia and Israel. The moment of truth for his pledge to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is fast approaching: early June is when signing of the waiver for that move is due. Will he sign it, or won't he? Will he heed Arab pleas, buttressed by darkly hinted threats of resulting Palestinian violence? Or will he fulfill his promise to his Jewish and Evangelical supporters?
I suggest we look at this question from a different angle, asking: How will the move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem affect the prospect of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict?
Both sides want particular outcomes. From the extensive history of previous attempts at negotiating the conflict, we can easily reverse-engineer those ultimately desired results. Since, in the past, Israelis put on the table various proposals to end the conflict, we can reasonably conclude that they ultimately want security and official recognition of legitimacy and legality of the Jewish state.
From persistent declining of those offers by the Palestinians, and from their avoiding negotiations whenever possible, we learn that the Palestinian goal is to not grant Israel that legitimacy and security. In fact, it is clear from Palestinian demands that settlement construction stops before negotiations even start, from their unwavering demand of the "right of return," from saturation of Palestinian media and textbooks with anti-Israel incitement, it is clear that Palestinians hope to eventually roll Israel back. Clearly, their strategy is twofold: on the one hand, freeze Israel's progress and movement, and on the other, chip away at it at every opportunity. The changes would thus go in a single direction – that of diminishing of Israel. It is thus only a matter of time and patience. Bound hand and foot during an Israel-friendly American administration and actively diminished during unsympathetic, Obama-style ones, Israel will inevitably come to an end.
This being the Palestinian calculation, what should the sensible response be?
To continue stroking Palestinian grievances, waiting patiently for yet another generation of Palestinians to come to their senses – the approach taken during the last seventy years? Given how entrenched, and well supplied, Palestinians are (their leader, Mr. Abbas, is feted in every capital of the world, and Palestinians themselves are fed, clothed, and housed by the U.N.), I see no reason why they would change their stance.
But how about sending Palestinians a clear signal that their stalling tactic that holds regional peace and progress hostage will no longer be tolerated?
Moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem would be that signal. It would tell the Palestinians that their strategy of gradual encroachment is no secret, and will not succeed – that they should either negotiate, and get something in return (that something being not the destruction of Israel, which they so fervently hope for, but merely the ability to have decent lives), or be left behind.
Mr. Trump's reaction to Assad's poison gas attack did not topple the regime; it did not even do much physical damage. Yet it was a clear signal that the U.S. administration's patience with Assad's use of chemical weapons is over. It was merely a warning shot. And looks as though it was heard – Mr. Assad has not resorted to chemical weapons since.
Moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem – a mere logistical move, a change in geographic location of a building – would likewise be a mere signal. It would be a signal that Palestinians should abandon their hopes for destroying Israel and come to the negotiating table, resolving the conflict.
And if they persist in their intransigence, too bad. They will be simply left behind.