It was a delightful night in the American capital. On the right and on the left, there was suddenly a sense of elation ahead of some kind of promise. But as the morning arrived, the glimmers of hope cleared away with the mist. The great Donald woke up to a morning of nervous tweets.
After the brief illusion that the boss had calmed down, his fans were able to breathe with relief: The Donald started kicking again, accused former President Barack Obama of wiretapping his phones during the election campaign, kept insulting the media and returned to his administration, which is being run in circles of insanity, lies and a world of alternative facts.
Within this chaos, as if in a bubble, the White House is doing extensive work on one issue that has to do with us: How to bring Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table and fulfill Trump’s grandiose ambition to reach a historic peace agreement that would echo throughout the region and the entire world. He seems obsessed with this issue, perhaps because his predecessors failed and he wants to show that he—the great Donald—is the only one who can do it.
Through secret channels and indirect paths, Trump is negotiating with Saudi Arabia, which he sees as a key state for the creation of a Sunni front against Iran. Obama approached the issue with a sense of mission, with a world view, an aspiration for justice and ideals: He wanted to put an end to the Palestinian suffering and save Israel and help it retain its status as a Jewish democratic state. Israelis saw him as an enemy. Now, with Trump’s activeness, the Israeli Right will likely miss Obama. Because Obama approached the issue with the composure of a leader searching for a solution, while Trump is bursting forth restlessly, and it’s not exactly clear why he is so obsessed with this issue, when he hasn’t even started picking up the pieces of torn America.
Trump is looking at the map of the Middle East through the eyes of a real estate mogul: He will parcellate the West Bank, measure lands, draw borders, and he is the one who will cut the ribbon. The man who is unable to read an intelligence document with more than nine paragraphs is not interested in the details, in the history, in the complexity and in the drives of the region’s people. His vision is to see towers rising on both sides of the Green Line, with water fountains and marble everywhere. That’s what he’s familiar with.
Diplomats from Washington briefed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas ahead of his phone call with Trump: Don’t fight him, don’t argue and don’t you dare whine that he is on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s side. All he wants is to receive love and recognition, because he is the admired Donald. Abbas took the advice to heart, and the conversation yielded both an understanding and an invitation to the White House.
The talks will continue, and the aim is to make a bombastic move of organizing a regional conference. The formula that would make it possible, according to the working plan at the White House, is that Trump will get Netanyahu to avoid building new settlements, give Abbas his word that the American embassy will not move to Jerusalem, make Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan partners in the talks, and will try to do what he believes he can—bring about a peace agreement.
Why is Trump gambling on this issue? Because he needs a foreign policy achievement, and not because he really cares. He wants a grandiose deal, and he is approaching the issue with no sentiments whatsoever. As far as he’s concerned, failure means a bleeding wound to his ego. He won’t let that happen. He will try to subdue not only Abbas, but also Netanyahu, because as he learned in the business world: “friends get no discounts.”
Netanyahu, who can’t and doesn’t want this, will try to play for time, because he knows that when Trump fails to do something his way, he turns away and goes looking for a different toy. Although the White House wants this very much, it’s hard to believe that the time has arrived for history to be made in the region.