United States Vice-President Mike Pence is on a trip to Egypt, Jordan and Israel, to support the efforts of the administration of US President Donald Trump in pursuing an “ultimate deal” to bring about Middle East peace. In the long history of foreign trips by senior US officials, I am hard-pressed to find one that is likely to be more counterproductive than this visit.
After Trump’s decision last month to recognise occupied Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, White House officials acknowledged that the Palestinians would need a “cooling off period” before they could return to constructive discussions. But instead of waiting patiently for the Palestinians to cool off, the US administration is throwing gasoline on the fire instead. Pence’s visit is just the latest in a series of escalatory steps. First, Pence announced that he would be visiting more than a month ago, leading Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to declare that he would not meet with the US vice-president. Pence’s office responded with a combative statement accusing the Palestinians of missing another opportunity to pursue peace. Since then, the Trump administration has continued to pour it on. Trump tweeted out a threat to cut off aid to the Palestinians if they did not re-engage in negotiations. Nikki Haley, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, is holding up American contributions to the UN Relief and Works Agency, which provides support for all kinds of programmes for Palestinian refugees, unless the Palestinians agree to resume negotiations.
The Palestinian reaction was expected. Last week, Abbas delivered a speech, making it clear he would not negotiate with Trump. It is now quite clear that no negotiations are happening anytime soon, and possibly never again with Abbas. Meanwhile, right-wingers in Israel see this as an opportunity to put a nail in the coffin of the two-state solution by pushing for legislation to annex parts of the West Bank or creating political hurdles that will make it impossible for any future government to negotiate on the final status of occupied Jerusalem. In the past, such initiatives have been restrained because Israeli politicians understood they could lead to unnecessary tensions with the US. But in this environment, there is a view in Israel that the US is willing to offer a blank cheque of support for even the most provocative actions, so long as Abbas and Trump remain so publicly estranged.
Read the full op-ed in Gulf News.