As Donald Trump’s administration began to take shape, most of its initial appointments and pronouncements portended disaster for the likelihood of Israel forging peace with the Palestinians and its regional neighbors. Israel’s rightist forces — both within Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government and outside — were emboldened by the designation of David Friedman (a supporter of West Bank settlements and opponent of a two-state peace agreement) plus the pledge to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The Netanyahu government has authorized 5,500 new housing units in the West Bank, while the municipality of Jerusalem has announced 500 in heavily Arab areas of East Jerusalem.
Recent statements, however, have given us pause to wonder what the new US administration’s policy will actually be. First, a White House statement asserted that settlements were not “an impediment to peace” but also “may not be helpful.” Then, according to the NY Times:
Mr. Trump told an Israeli newspaper that settlements “don’t help the process” and that he did not believe that “going forward with these settlements is a good thing for peace.” He also did not reaffirm his past vow to move the embassy, saying that it “is not an easy decision” and “we will see what happens.” . . .
Mr. Trump and Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and senior adviser, have been exploring an Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative that would enlist Arab allies, and a host of Arab leaders have told the new president that provocative pro-Israel positions would not help.
Concurrently, the new US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, has vetoed the appointment of Fayyad Salaam, the former reformist prime minister of the Palestinian Authority (known for his moderation and integrity), as UN envoy to Libya. This latter move comes off as a new Trump administration sop to Israel’s rightwing and a slap to the Palestinians.
But now there’s a new possible twist in the air, with speculation that the Zionist Union co-leader, Tzipi Livni, could become a deputy secretary-general at the UN as part of a deal to approve Salaam representing the UN in Libya. This — not to mention the ultimate prize of peace for Israel and the Palestinians — would enhance Pres. Trump’s famous sense of himself as a great dealmaker. That his Jewish son-in-law, Jared Kushner, the scion of a well-connected Zionist family, would become an instrument of this truly great “deal,” seems unlikely, but we have to wish him luck.