Lowering Expectations from Trump-Abbas Meeting

WASHINGTON – In the short time since elected into office, President Donald Trump has repeatedly pushed for securing the “ultimate deal” between Israeli and Palestinian leaders. The Commander in Chief told Reuters on April 27, “There is no reason there’s not peace between Israel and the Palestinians – none whatsoever.” However, at a Washington Institute panel on Monday, Middle East analysts argued that it was imperative that the United States lower expectations for the Wednesday White House meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

“In spite of the sudden spate of optimism that the Trump administration can do it, I would argue no major breakthrough is available now. No lack of effort or shortage of time prevented the deal so far during the many years since Oslo,” explained Channel 2 Arab Affairs analyst Ehud Ya’ari. “He is not the man who is going to sign the deal giving up on the return of many, many refugees. Embarking upon a final status effort is going to once again backfire. It is simply not there now. Therefore, the big question is whether the Trump administration will come to the table with a fallback, which can only be some version of a comprehensive interim (deal).”

Noting the possibility of making more modest advancements in the peace process such as stopping the stipend payments to families of Palestinian terrorists or restricting Israeli building from outside the West Bank settlement blocs, David Makovsky — a State Department official during the Obama administration — urged more realistic proposals. “The beginning of the Trump period should be a time of realism and aligning expectations by Trump: Palestinians, and Israelis on what is possible because short of the ultimate deal and the home-run, there are some singles here. I think everyone would be better off trying to advance the runner,” he noted.

WINEP Fellow Ghaith Omari suggested that Trump’s meeting with Abbas, strengthens the Palestinian leaders’ standing across the Middle East. “While last summer he was in many ways being shunned and pressured by regional actors, the renewed interest by President Trump in the peace process has brought Abbas back again into the regional limelight,” Omari said. He pointed to the 82-year leader’s recent meetings with Jordan’s King Abdullah and Egyptian President Abdel Fatteh al-Sisi as a sign of increased Arab engagement due to Trump’s investment in reaching the “ultimate deal.”

President Trump must demonstrate quickly that a new sheriff has arrived in Washington when dealing with US-Palestinian ties. While Abbas never responded to Obama’s 2014 peace offer as part of the nine month Kerry negotiations, Dennis Ross — former US Middle East Envoy during the Clinton administration — argued that such an outcome must be considered unacceptable. “His approach to the meeting with Abbas needs to be in the first instance to demonstrate the difference from Obama. The one thing that can’t be the result of this meeting is that Abbas leaves and feels it’s ok to say no to Trump. He needs to understand that when you say no to Trump, you pay a price,” Ross asserted.

At the same time, Omari advocated that the Trump administration adopt a nuanced approach when setting the goals for the meeting. “If President Trump asks for too much and too quickly, Abbas might shut down and he might retreat to preserve his domestic standing and nothing will come out of the meeting,” Omari said. “On the other hand, if the President asks for too little and is willing to engage on a diplomatic process with no preparation, we might end up with a very familiar story with a peace process where neither or one of the sides is willing or able to reach a deal, and we are just being strung along.”

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