Lessons Learned From Temple Mount Crisis on ‘Ultimate Deal’

WASHINGTON – With President Donald Trump’s goal of reaching the ‘ultimate deal’ between Israelis and Palestinians, Jewish Insider asked top Washington-based experts what lessons the President should learn from the recent Temple Mount crisis if he plans to forge ahead pursuing a deal.

“The administration invited Abbas to White House to meet the President in exchange for nothing. His (Abbas’) conduct since then suggested that they made a bad bet,” explained Elliot Abrams, a former top official in the George W. Bush administration. “He incited violence in the crisis over the Temple Mount. He did not try to cool things down and not say there are metal detectors in Mecca so there can be metal detectors here too.” Abrams, who currently works as a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations added, “I would hope that the administration would let him know that all of this has been seen and understood and that it has gone a long way to destroy confidence as a reliable interlocutor and that the next time an administration representative meets with him, they let him know there will be no meetings at the top levels like the President or Secretary of State.”

For Dan Arbell, a former senior Israeli diplomat, the lesson is for more U.S. active involvement. The Trump administration should adopt “much more hands on approach: starting to make the phone calls to the leadership and relevant players early on and not wait until things gets out of hand before intervening.” While senior officials Jason Greenblatt and Jared Kushner were involved, President Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson did not place one call to Israeli or Palestinian leaders during the entire two week crisis, according to media reports.

“We are now six and a half months into the administration and they are still in this fact finding, learning curve and trying to put together some sort of formula. We are reaching a certain point where the Palestinians are losing their patience and are beginning to wonder whether this administration is going to back up these words with actions,” Arbell explained. “The idea is to keep the ball moving forward because if you don’t then you end up in crisis situations that only bring setbacks. People are waiting to see whether this talk of an ultimate deal is actually something real or just a campaign promise that is not being delivered.”

With the annual United Nations General Assembly meeting approaching in September, Arbell called for intensifying U.S. diplomatic efforts to avoid alienating the Palestinians, which could lead to Ramallah restarting its drive to internationalize the conflict and join UN agencies and prompting a backlash from the Israeli government.

While Trump repeatedly touted his unique negotiating skills, Frank Lowenstein, the top Middle East envoy during the end of the Obama administration, emphasized the similarities facing current U.S. officials with previous years. “If there is anything that the Trump administration may have seen in the months that they have been working on it is they have been running into the roadblocks that we ran into from both sides,” Lowenstein said.

This difficulty in bringing tangible results should cause the White House to reassess their policy. Lowenstein concluded, “They are going to have to make a decision how they want to proceed: is it really worth investing time, energy and political capital on something that the parties themselves don’t appear to be genuinely committed to moving forward.

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