Israeli Palestinian peace unlikely

November 19, 2019 16:06

“It’s been a long time coming.”

Those were Donald Trump’s words on May 14, 2018, the day the United States became the first world power to move its Israeli embassy to Jerusalem.

It was a major development then: most countries that have diplomatic relations with Israel, including Britain, have long preferred Tel Aviv or a nearby suburb to station their ambassador.

But while that US relocation broke the mould, few followed its lead. In the 18 months since then, only Guatemala has physically relocated diplomatic staff. A smattering of other smaller countries has merely made noises about it, Honduras, Paraguay and Romania among them.

It could be said that Mike Pompeo’s announcement this week — that the US believes Israeli settlements in the West Bank are not necessarily illegal — has been a long time coming too. This is, after all, the most pro-Israel presidency the United States has seen in decades.

Many were outraged by the news, but few were startled by it. The US position on the Middle East’s most intractable conflict has long followed a course against the grain of international opinion since Mr Trump took office.

Few were surprised by what Mr Pompeo had to say: after all, it was only in March that Mr Trump followed his Jerusalem move by recognising Israel’s claim to the occupied Golan Heights.

What’s more, Mr Pompeo was at pains to point out during his announcement on Monday that the US had not decided all West Bank settlements should belong to Israel. That is something for Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate, he said.

So, to summarise, this announcement angered many, surprised nobody and came with many legal caveats. Will it change anything on the ground?

The short answer is no: it leaves Mr Trump’s critics still opposed to him and his supporters further enthused.

Mr Pompeo’s announcement does nothing to draw Palestinians back to a negotiating table under US mediation, as the president has long promised to do with his self-dubbed “deal of the century” for Middle East peace. Husam Zomlot, the PLO’s chief diplomat in the UK, said this week “must put an end to the illusion of some that the Trump administration can ever be trusted”.

Nor will the US decision convince other actors in the Middle East to change their settlement policy either. Russia called it a “blow to the peace process”, while the European Union said it still believed Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory were illegal. Britain follows the EU line.

It delighted the Israeli right wing and Benjamin Netanyahu, who rushed to the settlement of Alon Shvut outside Jerusalem to celebrate with local leaders, and it will play down well with the all-important evangelical voter base in the US that Mr Trump will rely heavily upon in next year’s presidential election.

In short, an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal is an unlikely as it has been for years. 

November 19, 2019 16:06

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