Can Trump Pull Off the Deal of the Century?
President Trump met with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas at the White House on Wednesday, expressing confidence that his administration would be able to negotiate a peaceful settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians after decades of false starts.
“Over the course of my lifetime I’ve always heard that perhaps the toughest deal to make is the deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians,” Trump said after meeting with Abbas. “Let’s see if we can prove them wrong.”
Earlier, at a joint press conference with the Palestinian leader, Trump said that he was optimistic about doing just that. “It’s something that I think is frankly, maybe not as difficult as people have thought over the years, but we need two willing parties. We believe Israel is willing. We believe you’re willing,” he said, referencing Abbas. “And if you both are willing, we are going to make a deal.”
Of course, the definition of “willing” may be up for debate, considering how far apart the two sides are when it comes to the details of an acceptable peace treaty. On Wednesday, Abbas confirmed the demands of the Palestinian Authority would include a return to the “1967 borders,” which the Israeli government has rejected time and again as a danger to their security. Abbas said that Israel must also accept millions of Arab refugees back into the country and recognize, officially, the Palestinian state. “Just as,” he noted, “the Palestinian people recognize the state of Israel.”
What the Palestinians do not recognize, however, is Israel’s status as a Jewish homeland, which will also likely be a sticking point when it comes to negotiating a settlement. Nor do they recognize Jerusalem as the “undivided” capital of Israel.
There may be no greater hurdle to peace on Israel’s side, though, than the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to acknowledge the anti-Semitic violence that is propagated by the government, taught to schoolchildren, and disseminated through the media. President Trump brought the subject to light on Wednesday, saying “there can be no lasting peace unless the Palestinian leaders speak in a unified voice against incitement to violence and hate.”
Abbas appeared to dismiss those concerns, insisting, “We are raising our youth, our children, our grandchildren on a culture of peace.”
The next day, in Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Abbas of lying straight to Trump’s face.
“I heard President Abbas yesterday say that the Palestinians teach their children peace,” he said. “Unfortunately, that’s not true. They name their schools after mass murderers of Israelis and they pay terrorists.
“But,” he continued, “I hope that it’s possible to achieve a change and to pursue a genuine peace. This is something Israel is always ready for. I’m always ready for genuine peace.”
President Trump is clearly motivated to achieve what would be, by any objective account, the deal of the century.
Right now, however, the gap between the two sides may be too wide for any negotiator to close.