The Trump Administration’s Middle East “Peace Plan,” headed by Jared Kushner, has been in its “pre-launch” phase for nearly two years. The plan itself serves as a representation of Trump’s global foreign policy. While substantive details have been kept intentionally vague, recent updates by Kushner suggest that the President’s plan for peace in the region is inspired by two main concepts: the idea that all arrangements, whether economic, diplomatic, or philanthropic, must have an immediate, non-abstract, benefit to the US; and the idea that maintaining a hard line on punitive sanctions during the negotiation process is the best position for putting maximum pressure on the state with whom a deal is being made. This diplomatic strategy should come as no surprise to us as, after all, it is the first sentence of chapter two in the Art of the Deal,
“My style of deal-making is quite simple and straightforward. I aim very high, and then I just keep pushing and pushing and pushing to get what I’m after. Sometimes I settle for less than I sought, but in most cases I still end up with what I want.”
But does this method translate well for international relations?
On the Israeli/Palestinian front, President Trump has been unambiguous in his support for Israel. Since the May 2018 move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem, Palestinian leaders have been reluctant to meet or negotiate with the Trump Administration, officially severing all ties with the President and claiming the Embassy move hindered the possibility of stability in the region. In an effort to bring the Palestinians to the negotiation table, Sec. of State Mike Pompeo blocked $165m in scheduled aid to the Palestinians in October of 2018, and has to date cut at least half a billion dollars in spending for Palestinian security and infrastructure. This came off the heels of closures of PA offices in Washington DC and the end of aid to East Jerusalem hospitals and UNRWA.
Clearly, these aid cuts are intended to place the United States in a position of power within the peace process. Perhaps the President intends to squeeze the Palestinians to their breaking point before releasing the much-anticipated Peace Plan. However, since then, bipartisan members of Congress, including Sen. Lindsey Graham-R and Sen. Tim Kaine-D, have been drafting a bill intended to counteract the Trump cuts and provide investment money to Palestinian businesses and aid for infrastructure. This shows that there are members of both parties who doubt that an uncompromising stance on economic sanctions will ultimately benefit the negotiation process.
The Palestinians are also retaining a hardline stance in the peace process. Even though Administration officials claim the content of the report has not been leaked, Palestinian officials have preemptively rejected all portions of the plan believed to be leaked in January. Recently, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah sent a letter to the Trump Administration formally rejecting all US aid in the wake of the 2018 Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act, a congressional act which allows victims of terrorism to hold any government that accepts American aid liable for monetary judgements in American courts. The stance taken by the PA leadership seems to be a reverberation of Trump’s own negotiation style.
As Israel’s closest ally and economic mainstay, Trump assumes the United States comes from a position of absolute power. But is this still the case? According to Israel’s Tourism Ministry, between August 2017 and August 2018, the number of Chinese tourists to Israel jumped 30%. Several billion-dollar Asian tech firms have set up headquarters in Israel during the past year alone, including Singapore-based Temasek Holdings which recently acquired the Israeli consulting firm Sygnia for $250 million. And three airlines now offer non-stop flights to China, up from only one last year, with Air India planning non-stop flights from Tel Aviv to Mumbai. These investments in Israel mark a growing interest in market relations between Israel and Asia. This means more than just increased competition with the US economically — it means China now has a vested interest in the stability of the region. No-strings-attached aid to the Palestinians has already been reported from Europe, as well as China, Russia, Canada, Saudi Arabia, and several other nations. Whereas in previous years the US could act unilaterality as the region’s superpower, both Israelis and Palestinians now have more options to choose from with regards to who they negotiate with.
The Art of the Deal Diplomacy employed by Trump and embraced by his team may have been an effective negotiating tactic in deals with Hyatt over Manhattan’s Commodore Hotel, but it may not be as effective when determining American foreign policy in the Middle East. This is especially true considering the almost Cold War-like rivalry in the region over the past ten years and the growing competition between Russia and China and the US. The goal of peace and stability in the region is not a local one, but a global one. And while the international community and the US government agree on the intended outcome, time alone can decide whether Trump’s diplomatic strategy will prove successful.