President Trump has yet to fulfill his campaign promises to move the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and to acknowledge Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel. And he has sort of asked Israel to put a lid on further settlement expansion – as he put it rather casually, “for a little bit.” Yet there definitely seems to be change in the air.
Mr. Trump was scheduled to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Washington this week and Prime Minister Netanyahu later this month in Jerusalem. This would not be such a big deal except that several days ago, seemingly out of the blue, Mr. Abbas told the Hamas leadership that it had to turn over control of Gaza to him and to end its political confrontation with the PA. As if to underscore his resolve, he announced that the PA would cut salaries of Gaza government workers and no longer pay Gaza’s bills for electricity supplied by Israel.
For its part, Hamas went through a whole charade of moving away from its position calling for the destruction or “obliteration” of the Jewish state and the slaughter of Jews living there. According to The New York Times, “A new document of principles – released by Hamas just days before the Palestinian Authority’s leader, Mahmoud Abbas, was scheduled to meet President Trump – calls for closer ties to Egypt, waters down the anti-Semitic language that is prominent in its charter, and accepts at least a provisional Palestinian state.”
Of course, a close reading of the new document shows that any notion of an evolution in Hamas’s thinking is far-fetched. There is no recognition of Israel’s political legitimacy nor is Hamas ready to give up any claims to all of what it considers Palestinian lands.
It seems the Palestinians are falling all over themselves in an effort to refute Israel’s longstanding argument that the PA does not control Gaza and the Hamas government there, and Hamas’s open call for the destruction of the Jewish state means that no deal is possible or that any deal would be impossible to implement.
Given the realities on the ground, however, how can Israel know what its security interests are vis-a-vis the Palestinians? (And this is to say nothing about the issue of the Syrian civil war and the Iranian and Hizbullah presence on Israel’s border with Syria.)
We also note that reports are now filtering through about what transpired at the meeting in Ramallah several weeks ago between Mr. Abbas and Jason Greenblatt, President Trump’s Mideast emissary. Apparently – and we emphasize that this is what might be called informed speculation – Mr. Greenblatt made it plain that President Trump took the Israeli argument very seriously and was not about to ignore it, as President Obama was inclined to do.
So although the dynamic between Mr. Abbas and Hamas cannot be changed overnight, if ever, it seems that this is all an attempt by the Palestinians to indicate good faith and a little movement on their part in order to entice Mr. Trump into giving them some benefit of the doubt in the short run and allow negotiations to go forward. Perhaps they are still hopeful the Obama approach will be continued, at least for the time being.
It is hard to believe that President Trump will fall for this line of thinking. Not only is it contrary to everything he has said, we cannot think of anything that would be as counterintuitive to a seasoned deal maker, especially when he considers the duplicitous Palestinian track record.
Yet the president did invite Mr. Abbas to the White House, before anything could have conceivably changed. What could there be to talk about at this early stage? Optimally, Mr. Trump would take the opportunity to lay down the law as to those things that are non-negotiable but necessary if any real progress is to be made – including an end to the PA’s practice of giving U.S. taxpayer subsidies to families of killed or jailed terrorists and ending anti-Israel incitement in PA-controlled media, mosques, and schools.
And the president would impress upon Mr. Abbas that the U.S. will not force Israel to concede anything it doesn’t want to concede.
On the other hand, we are fascinated with the prospects for the president’s upcoming trip to Israel to meet with Mr. Netanyahu.
It could not have been a coincidence that the meeting is scheduled to take place just prior to Israel’s celebration of Yom Yerushalayim, which marks the reuniting of Jerusalem in 1967. And if, as it now appears, the meeting will take place in Jerusalem, no one in Israel would be surprised if Mr. Trump seizes the opportunity to announce the relocation of the U.S. embassy there – after all, as we have frequently noted, U.S. law requires that very thing – and recognize Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel.
International affairs being what they are, we can’t really know how all of this will turn out. But there does seem to be a shift in the wind in Israel’s direction.