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12 Dec 2017 4:20
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  •   Home > News > International

    Jerusalem move is a big favour from Donald Trump. It won't be cheap to pay back

    A seasoned businessman like President Donald Trump will expect quid pro quo for a deal like this. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has left himself without any cards to play, writes Akiva Eldar.

    Every rookie cadet in the foreign service knows that in diplomacy, as in business, there are no free lunches.

    When a seasoned businessman like President Donald Trump grants Israel the coveted US recognition of Jerusalem as its capital, he expects a quid pro quo. That is why Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered members of his government to lie low and, to the extent possible, abstain from crowing over the expected news from the White House.

    As a former furniture salesman (Mr Netanyahu once worked in marketing for an Israeli furniture firm), the prime minister knows that an overly enthusiastic buyer jacks up the price of the goods.

    He can assume that Mr Trump will not risk upsetting his Saudi clients over the sensitive issue of Jerusalem — holy to both Muslims and Jews — just to please his Jewish and evangelical supporters/constituents.

    No one gives away such a gift, and with a 50 per cent discount, at that.

    The first recognition by a foreign nation of Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state will come with a price tag, and it won't be cheap.

    Mr Trump's envoy Jared Kushner, speaking on December 3 at the Saban Forum in Washington, indicated that his father-in-law's administration was preparing another pricey gift for Israel.

    The President's adviser told participants at the prestigious gathering that many countries in the region, traditional enemies of the Jewish state, now view Israel as a potential partner given their shared enemies: Iran and the Islamic State.

    He noted that the US Mideast peace team, which he leads, was focusing on efforts to implement what the countries in the region want — "economic progress, peace for their people".

    However, hatred of Iran, love of Israel and even covert intelligence support are not the only ingredients of regional peace.

    "If we're going to try to create more stability in the region as a whole, you have to solve this issue," Mr Kushner said, referring to an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. The Saudis, Egyptians, Qataris, Jordanians, Emiratis, "everyone we've spoken with," all view a solution to the Palestinian problem as important.

    Indeed, with all due respect to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and despite the importance of efforts being invested by the President of the United States, two additional partners are needed to advance resolution of the Palestinian problem: Palestinians and Israelis.

    Netanyahu to Palestinians: Give, but don't expect anything

    Shortly after being elected Prime Minister for the first time in 1996, Mr Netanyahu announced that negotiations with the Palestinians would be based on a simple equation: "If they give, they will get; if they don't give, they won't get."

    In a campaign message prior to the 1999 elections, Mr Netanyahu accused the left wing of abandoning the principle of "reciprocal peace". He pledged to renew negotiations with the Palestinians over Israel's permanent borders right after the elections.

    Almost in the same breath, he promised "to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital."

    At a press conference in 2005 announcing his run for the Likud Party leadership, Mr Netanyahu boasted, "I have already proven in the past my ability to conduct tough negotiations vis-a-vis the Palestinians. I determined a principle with which you're familiar — the principle of reciprocity. They give, they get .. by insisting on reciprocity, I stopped the wholesale compromises over the Land of Israel."

    Mr Netanyahu has had more than one opportunity to conduct negotiations with the Palestinians his way — i.e. according to the "if they give" principle.

    Over the eight-year term of former US president Barack Obama and almost a year of the Trump presidency, we have heard over and over what the Palestinians must give and what they will not get in return.

    They have to recognise Israel as the state of the Jewish people, to allow Israelis to settle on Palestinian lands and to fight Hamas.

    In return, they will not get an independent state, they will not get an inch of the Israeli-annexed city of Jerusalem, they will not control the borders of their non-existent state and, of course, discussion of returning a single Palestinian refugee to Israel is a nonstarter.

    Trump has played key bargaining chip

    In the meantime, in granting Israel the gift of recognising Jerusalem as its capital Mr Trump has played a key bargaining chip in any bid for a peace in the Middle East, leaving him little of value to offer the Israelis in return for the necessary concessions that are required for the two-state solution.

    All American presidents in the 1980s after the Oslo agreements — both Democrat and Republican — were careful not to touch this issue, as it has to do with conflicting narratives, not only between Israelis and Arabs, but with the most sensitive nerves that are touching Muslims and Jews and Christians all over the world.

    Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama kept signing waivers every six months to the bill that was passed in 1995 by the Congress requiring the administration to move the embassy. They were aware of the fact that this would be not only a gift to the Jewish people, but to the most radical Muslims, who would use it as an argument that the US was biased, as well as to anti-Semites, who claim that the Jews control the US.

    Even Mr Trump, when he signed a waiver the first time, was aware of it. He followed the advice of America's National Security Council, which was against the move.

    If Mr Trump is genuine in saying he is interested in a deal between Israel and the Arabs, he is shooting himself in the foot right now.

    Akiva Eldar is an author and columnist for Al-Monitor's Israel Pulse. He was formerly a senior writer for Haaretz and served as the Hebrew daily's US bureau chief and diplomatic correspondent.

    © 2017 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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