Blunt Force Trauma

If the news reports are correct, we will not see a Trump plan for Israeli-Palestinian Peace, at least until after the midterms.  Having now rhetorically taken Jerusalem and the refugees "off the table," and having suggested a confederation between the West Bank and Jordan, it is not clear what Trump or his minions think the Palestinians have left to negotiate.  Of course there is still the question of trash collection, or we could hark back to our Autonomy Negotiations and resurrect the list of "powers and responsibilities" that Sol Linowitz dragged out of the Israelis at that time.  But, probably, that list went too far in giving Palestinians responsibility for their own affairs. 

Trump's negotiating mantra seems to be If you bludgeon someone hard enough, they will cave. That may work in the real estate market of New York city, particularly when you are protected by bankruptcy laws, but it is a highly questionable tactic in foreign policy.  

It was not a bad idea that Trump had, to pull together the Arab states who see an existential threat from Iran and ISIS. But of all the things that Trump should understand, better than most, is that in Middle East politics, you don't alienate your core constituency - you play to them.  Mubarak ignored this rule when he favored his businessman sons over his fellow officers in the military - exit Mubarak.  Morsi also lost out when he favored his Islamic colleagues over the broader officer corps.  By contrast, when King Hussein of Jordan was severely challenged by the Palestinians in 1970, in Black September, he went back to his roots and counted on his core tribal supporters (in addition to Israel and the US) to tilt the balance back his way..  Each of the players in the Middle East, including Bibi and the Ayatollah, has a core constituency, which he/she cannot, and will not ignore when survival, either political or physical, is at stake.  

So if Trump wants an alliance with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, he has to be mindful of the local forces the rulers face.  And that would argue against blatantly taking Israel's side on the question of Jerusalem's future and turning it into a Jew vs Muslim issue - or by arguing for resolution of the refugee problem without recognizing the interests of each of the refugee host countries - Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Israel and Egypt. The Middle East has defied earnest efforts at resolution for over seventy years precisely because it is a complex issue with every strand leading back to the core interests of a different constituency.  

Let's assume that Trump can bully the Palestinians into submission. I wonder what odds Jimmy the Greek would have given for the long term survival of a supplicant Palestinian regime? Blunt force trauma is not a good tool for moving the needle in the Middle East unless you are prepared to go all the way with military force.  But while slow, step by miniscule step Quiet diplomacy, in a boring effort to achieve progress is not a great vehicle for good TV ratings,  it is more likely to get results, provided the time frame is longer than the US political cycle. 

To be fair, indications are that the Trump team proposes major economic incentives for Gaza and the West Bank (presumably to replace the economic aid that Trump is withdrawiing from the West Bank and UNRWA).  I guess the presumption is that the Palestinians can be bought off.  It didn't work with Stormy Daniels and I doubt it will work with Abu Mazen, Mohammed Dahlan, or any other Palestinian leader.  It is an interesting concept - impoverish them and then offer a way out of poverty in return for them giving up thier national aspirations. I would not want to be the agent who offered a life insurance policy to the Palestinian leader who bought into that trade off.  



Ned Walker