[Published 12 March 2016]
One of the world’s greatest negotiators - Donald Trump - has walked straight into a political minefield when telling the GOP presidential debate in Miami last Thursday how he would resolve the 100 years old Jewish-Arab conflict:
“I will tell you, I think if we’re ever going to negotiate a peace settlement … I think it would be more helpful as a negotiator, if I go in and say I’m pro-Israel, but at least have the other side know I’m somewhat neutral to them so that we can maybe get a deal done,”
How can Trump be “somewhat neutral” to the “other side”?
Who indeed does Trump consider to be “the other side”?
If the “other side” is the PLO - Trump would have to renege on the following non-neutral positions adopted by his predecessor President Obama that any new Palestinian Arab State:
1. Be non-militarisedTrump is certainly not bound by Obama’s position on these contentious issues and abandoning them would certainly be open to him. Israel however will not forego these demands which it has consistently stipulated during the last eight years are essential prerequisites for advancing any possible settlement of the conflict.
2. Recognise Israel as the Jewish State
The only result of Trump’s neutrality on Obama’s position will see any peace settlement between Israel and the PLO becoming impossible to achieve.
Trump would also need to shred commitments binding America made by the last Republican President - George W Bush - to Israel on 14 April 2004. These commitments were overwhelmingly endorsed by the Congress 407-9. They were given to support Israel’s unilateral disengagement and total evacuation from Gaza - and included:
1. Like Obama - committing to Israel’s well being as a Jewish StateObama tried to downplay his obligation to uphold these American commitments but still was unable to broker an Israel-PLO agreement. Any attempt by Trump to follow in Obama’s footsteps would similarly fail.
2. Settling Palestinian Arab refugees in any new Palestinian Arab State rather than in Israel.
3. Israel having secure and recognized borders, which should emerge from negotiations between the parties in accordance with UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338.
4. Recognition it was unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations would be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.
More seriously however it would signal a gross betrayal by a Republican President of a former Republican President’s Congress-endorsed commitments to a loyal friend and ally that would send America’s reputation and integrity for honouring commitments made by it to other nations quickly sinking to rock bottom.
Rubio has already agreed to honour these Bush commitments. Trump’s stated neutrality position seems to indicate he might not.
Trump’s neutrality could be construed quite differently, however, if the “other side” is not the PLO.
Direct negotiations between Jordan, Egypt and Israel to replace the moribund Israel-PLO negotiations could allow Trump to adopt a “somewhat neutral” stance because Israel has had signed peace agreements with Egypt since 1979 and Jordan since 1994.
Peace is far easier to accomplish with States already at peace with each other than with a hostile non-State group pledged to destroy the other party to the negotiations.
CNN and Fox’s blanket coverage of the primaries over the coming weeks gives those interviewing Trump ample opportunities to get him to explain how he hopes to become “somewhat neutral” and with whom.
The interviewers may need to be “somewhat confrontational” in their questioning.
Trump needs to blow his own trumpet with greater clarity by providing more detail on how he hopes to succeed where previous Presidents have embarrassingly failed