The reports from Trump’s visit to Jerusalem were difficult to interpret. The additional 10 or so days of reflection doesn’t make the task any easier. After all, was anything accomplished?
According to one scoop, our president came back from Riyadh with a private proposal supported by Saudi Arabia's King Salman and Egypt's President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi: Create a demilitarized Palestinian state with an Israeli right of intervention until the total disappearance of terrorism, with the IDF retaining control of the Jordan River.
All this, of course, is speculation because the press was not given access to Mr. Trump during his tour.
However, putting aside rumors, what we can do is contrast the meetings with King Salman and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Trump, after his sword dance and festivities with the Saudis did not, when he arrived in Jerusalem, demonstrate the strong human and personal attachment with the Israelis that have been the hallmark of visits by each American president since Nixon visit in 1974.
In this sense, despite Netanyahu trying to put a good face on his few hours with Trump, the rush through Yad Vashem and cancelling of Masada did not leave the kind of memorable impression that motivates Israelis to believe that the U.S. has its back. What impresses the Israelis most is that world leaders care and admire the struggle of pioneers to build a nation.
In purely political terms, Trump simply repeated the Saudi peace proposal that's been on the table since 2002: "First satisfy the Palestinians, then Israel can hope that the Saudi and Gulf neighbors will make peace with you." A bit of a disappointment because the policy of Israel and also the United States for 70 years is that only where there will be real regional willingness to admit Israel as a legitimate neighbor can the Palestinian issue be solved.
However to pass over what may be in this instance a misinterpretation of the message, Donald Trump could have significantly advanced the peace process without formulating a political position and without risk. In his speech in Riyadh the following message could have been adeptly mixed with his newly awakened admiration for Islam:
1) The Saudis should consider openly allowing Jews into their country and thereby make real the principle that the Arabs have no problem with the Jews but only with the policies of Israeli government. The fact that Ivanka was not banned from the country could have allowed a clever opening on this.
2) The Saudis should take a certain minimum first step, a step that all civilized nations have taken even with their worst enemies, which is to recognize that they exist. Recognition can no longer be held out as a prize only to be awarded once the Saudis get all they want. This first step is much less than what the Egyptians did in 1978 and Jordan in 1982 which was to make peace with Israel. Failure to recognize Israel has to be explained as counterproductive to any peace effort.
3) The solution to the Palestinian problem should be stated as not in Israel's hands alone. 2.2 million refugees live in places outside Gaza and the West Bank and without regional cooperation in finding a solution even the most balanced two state solution between Israel and the Palestinians will not produce regional stability that is the goal after all of all concerned nations.
If the Saudis are going to be an agent for peace and to be the beneficiary of 110 billion dollars in arms sales, could not they accept that a U.S. president speaks these simple words that are not contrary to the policy positions of the European Union or the United Nations?
Although more risky, Trump could also have expanded on the reference to Jewish and Christian victims of terrorism by not only mentioning Hezbollah as a terrorist organization but by also condemning Hamas rocket attacks against civilians. Very simple clear statements by United States can reassure the Israelis and push them to call into question their fundamental mistake which is to assume that they are victims of an unbalanced foreign policy where their construction policies on the West Bank are unfairly considered as the most significant obstacle to peace.
If Trump wanted to balance these few suggestion to the Saudis he might have wanted to make certain minimum statements addressed to Israel.
For example he might have taken the position that Israel does not need recognition as a Jewish State as a pre-condition to negotiations because it is what it is: a Jewish State. Outside opinion on this fundamental issues doesn't change much. And two, Israel cannot risk a future where it is in continuous occupation of Palestinian Territories because in that case the accusations of apartheid will not be, as they are now, unjustified and defamatory attacks.
It may be that there was a plan for our president to leave only symbolic messages at each stop on his foreign tour, in contrast to the series of tweets at home where we have his extemporaneous words and thoughts.
This being said, if the president had taken these or similar positions destined for the Saudis and then the Israelis in his formal speeches, a new and sound basis could have been established to relaunch the peace process that has bogged down for too long.
Mark L. Cohen has his own legal practice, and was counsel at White & Case starting in 2001, after serving as international lawyer and senior legal consultant for the French aluminum producer Pechiney. Cohen was a senior consultant at a Ford Foundation Commission, an advisor to the PBS television program "The Advocates," and Assistant Attorney General in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He teaches U.S. history at the business school in Lille l’EDHEC. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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