The Trump administration has failed to reach agreement with Israel on curbing its construction of settlements in the occupied West Bank.
On Thursday, the White House said that during four days of “intensive discussions” with the Israelis, senior US officials “reiterated President Trump’s concerns regarding settlement activity in the context of moving towards a peace agreement.”
But at the end of the talks no agreement was reached on meeting those concerns.
Israeli leaders had been ecstatic at Trump’s election, believing that he would give them a green light to accelerate colonization of occupied Palestinian land.
All of Israel’s settlements are illegal under international law.
Settler leaders received a warm welcome at the president’s January inauguration and one of Trump’s first key nominations was for an ambassador to Israel who has personally helped raise millions of dollars to build settlements in the West Bank.
David Friedman, who is currently being sued by US citizens and Palestinians for his role in this land theft, was confirmed as ambassador by the Republican-controlled Senate on Thursday. The 52-46 vote broke down largely along party lines.
But despite these signals, the administration surprised Israeli leaders just days after taking office by issuing a public warning to Israel over its accelerating settlement building.
When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the White House last month, Trump reiterated that “I’d like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit.”
“We’ll work something out,” the president assured, though his first major effort to do so has clearly failed.
Trump’s insistence on some form of limitation means that his policy differs little from that of his predecessors who also paid lip-service to curbing settlements.
The Washington Post described Trump’s desire to limit settlements as “a precondition” for having Saudi Arabia and other so-called “moderate” Arab states “join a regional peace process.”
Indeed, the Trump administration is making a show of reaching out, even to Palestinians. During a visit to the region earlier this month, the administration’s envoy Jason Greenblatt visited Jalazone refugee camp near Ramallah to speak to Palestinian youth and “understand their daily experiences.”The White House statement added that the US-Israeli delegations discussed improving the economy in the West Bank and the “necessity” of fulfilling international aid pledges for the reconstruction of Gaza “in ways that benefit the population without further empowering Hamas or other terrorist organizations.”
The Israelis have noticed the similarities too. “A senior minister who sits in the diplomatic-security cabinet said he met with Netanyahu this week and found him very worried,” the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz reported on Monday. The reason: Donald Trump.
“There’s enormous pressure on him over the settlements from Trump,” the minister said. Given Netanyahu’s dependence on the settler movement he has supported for his entire political career, the Israeli prime minister is cornered.
Last month, Israel’s parliament passed a law to facilitate the theft of Palestinian land for settlements.
“That’s also why he isn’t going to the AIPAC conference in Washington at the end of the month,” the minister told Haaretz, referring to the powerful Israel lobby group. “He doesn’t yet have anything to bring to Trump. The feeling I got is that he’s starting to miss Obama.”
Path to failure
Despite the years of demonization of Barack Obama by Israel and its surrogates, this is a tacit admission of a plain fact: he was in reality, the most pro-Israel US president in history.
Months before he left office, Obama signed an agreement boosting US military aid to Israel to a record $3.8 billion a year starting in 2019.
And because Trump’s policy is so much like Obama’s, he will find himself on the same well-trodden path to failure in achieving his stated goal of a peace agreement.
Trump claims to be the consummate dealmaker, ready to upend longstanding relations with friends and rivals alike if that’s what it takes to put “America first.”
He even threatened China that he would abandon years of US policy on not recognizing Taiwan unless Beijing met his terms on trade.
That’s why Trump finds he has no more influence with Israel than the previous occupant of the White House.
While the talks between Israel and the administration are “ongoing,” according to the White House, so is Israel’s unrelenting theft of Palestinian land.
That won’t change as long as Israel pays no price for its actions.