Trump to Abbas: Negotiate

Different observers see different motives for President Trump's U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. 

European leaders such as the French president and the pope see in Mr. Trump a naïf desperately out of touch with sensibilities of the region, unwittingly adding fuel to raging Middle East conflicts. 

Muslim potentates like Erdoğan and Khamenei see an infidel stretching his greedy arms to a piece of holiness that by the natural order of things can only be in Islamic possession, under their sovereignty and control. 

Observers of the American political scene see a president chafing under a semi-annual obligation to sign a waiver on the congressional mandate to move the embassy to Jerusalem, which he sees as a loud public reminder of a broken election promise.  Trump wants to get rid of this embarrassment, come what may.

To my eye, however, we see a highly intelligent move by a skilled negotiator who sees one of the parties to negotiations shirking the negotiation process.

For all the protestations by well meaning people that Palestinians merely seek a state with a capital in East Jerusalem, living in peace alongside Israel, such is not the Palestinian goal at all.  The ultimate goal is making Israel disappear, by taking what they can while giving nothing back, thus simply making inroads and eroding Israel at opportune moments.  For such policy to work, any change in territorial or political disposition – be it a result of violence or negotiations – should go in one direction: in Palestinians' favor.  Under no circumstance whatsoever can there be a deal with Israel, because a deal means the end to any encroachment, to any advance at Israel's expense.  It means failure of the Palestinian struggle; it means that Israel will stay. 

Needless to say, any negotiations endanger that goal, for they may result in an agreement – an unacceptable outcome, no matter what was agreed to.  Hence, under no circumstances do Palestinians engage in meaningful negotiations. 

They will sure take bribes, like the nine-month freeze on settlement activity into which Obama strong-armed Israel at the start of his first term, or welcome the release, at the demand of John Kerry, of some seventy-five unrepentant terrorists who murdered Israelis.  Kerry thought this would make Palestinians negotiate (not to mention, of course, hundreds of millions of dollars in aid going to Mr. Abbas, his loyalists, and Palestinian terrorists and their families).

None of this worked, making Mr. Obama sour on engaging in further peace-processing and passing the baton to the eager Mr. Kerry, who in turn failed miserably to bring Palestinians to the negotiating table.  Their masses fed, clothed, and housed by the international community, and their leadership feted throughout the world, Palestinians are well positioned to exercise what Mr. Obama called (referring to his North Korea policy) "strategic patience."

Mr. Trump, with his almost year-long experience nudging Palestinians toward negotiations, undoubtedly learned that much: Palestinians will only take and will not give.  They see negotiations as the gravest danger to their national aspirations of destroying Israel – for success of negotiations is the failure of their national dream. 

So what does Mr. Trump do?  He tells the Palestinians in no uncertain terms: I mean business.  You will either negotiate or be left behind.  I will not be waiting for you.  Make up your mind now.

How does he do it? By telling the Palestinians that their grand strategy of stalling on negotiations while grabbing what they can in the interim has been noticed and will not be allowed to proceed.  Hence the moves in Congress to stop funding Palestinians unless they stop funding terrorists and their families.  This did not produce the desired effect, hence Mr. Tillerson's putting Palestinians on notice that their D.C. office is in risk of getting closed. In response, Palestinians threatened to cut off contact with the U.S. negotiation team, hence, I think, President Trump's announcement of U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. 

Half a year back, Mr. Trump signed the waver specifically to give himself the elbow room and test the waters, to see whether he can move negotiations along.  Having seen whom he is dealing with, and perceiving that he will be duped like his predecessors if he keeps on  their course, he turned to a different tack.

So if Mr. Abbas is able to learn, he will be well advised to heed the message in President Trump's speech, which I think can be reduced to a single word addressed to Mr. Abbas: "negotiate."