President Trump's self-styled deal of the century aimed at resolving the 100 years-old Arab-Jewish conflict has now been postponed beyond February for a further unspecified period of months - signalling Jordan and Egypt are still refusing to step up and negotiate with Israel on Trump's plan.
Jordan and Egypt – having respectively signed peace agreements with Israel in 1994 and 1979 - were the last two Arab states to occupy Judea and Samaria (West Bank), East Jerusalem and Gaza ("the disputed territories") between 1948 and 1967. Both are eminently qualified to replace the Palestine Liberation Organisation which has flatly refused – sight unseen – to negotiate with Israel on Trump's proposals to resolve the allocation of sovereignty in the disputed territories.
Trump's plan will be stillborn unless Arab interlocutors indicate in advance that they stand ready to take up the challenge presented by Trump's ideas and agree to meet with Israel to try and reach a deal acceptable to both Arabs and Jews.
America's ambassador to Israel – David Friedman – revealed that the upcoming Israeli elections in April were a factor - but not the only factor – that led to the latest postponement of Trump's long-awaited peace plan.
Friedman said the White House wanted to release the plan in a way that gave it the best chance of getting a good reception. Friedman noted additional "wordsmithing and smoothing" was still required before it was publicized.
The challenge to a peace plan is making the case for a much more sober assessment of the realities in this region. The last time there was a meaningful agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians was 1993 [Ed – The Oslo Accords]. A lot has happened since 1993.
Friedman's comments came during a joint media conference held in Jerusalem alongside US National Security Adviser John Bolton.
Bolton had seen General Jim Mattis resign as Secretary of Defence in December. Since 2013 Mattis had strongly supported the two-state solution – the creation of an additional Arab state between Israel and Jordan – contemplated by both the Oslo Accords and President Bush's 2003 Roadmap, and unsuccessfully pushed for eight years by President Obama and his Secretaries for State – Hilary Clinton and John Kerry.
Bolton's opposing opinion held since 2009 was reconfirmed to Eric Shawn on 21 January 2018:
I hope at some point the Administration recognizes and perhaps it is already quietly – that the two-state solution isn't going anywhere. If anything I would say to King Abdullah of Jordan – "Be prepared to reassert Jordanian sovereignty over part of the West Bank – negotiate with Israel". I think that's a far better outcome than the continued pursuit of a mythical – I believe – unattainable viable Palestinian state.
Twelve months down the track Bolton's Jordan approach has seemingly prevailed - especially after Friedman's assertion last September:
Since 1994, the United States has thrown more than $10 billion in humanitarian aid to the Palestinians. Without minimizing the importance of medical treatment and quality education for children - and we don't minimize that, not even for a minute - we found that these expenditures were bringing the region no closer to peace or stability, not even by a millimetre. To spend hard-earned taxpayer dollars to fund stipends to terrorists and their families, to expend funds to perpetuate rather than to mitigate refugee status, and to finance hate-filled textbooks - I ask you, how does that provide value to the United States or the region?
Friedman's "wordsmithing and smoothing" comment indicates that Jordan and Egypt could be holding out for further American financial and security guarantees before agreeing to negotiate with Israel.
Trump's legendary negotiating skills – and patience - are being seriously tested.
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