Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ recent reception at the White House provided the optics for a new Middle East peace push, even though it does not appear to have generated any actual momentum. But the high-profile reception did give legitimacy to the Palestinian leader, notwithstanding the fact that he is despised at home, is still in office despite his term expiring years ago, and rules over a diminished territory, Hamas long having taken over full control of Gaza.
To add further to the problem, we were treated to the spectacle of Abbas telling a whopper of a lie while standing shoulder to shoulder with the president of the United States: “We are raising our youth, our children and our grandchildren on a culture of peace,” he said in response to Trump’s call for the Palestinians to curb incitement against Israel.
Who did Abbas think he was kidding?
President Trump was right to highlight Palestinian incitement as an impediment to peace, although he didn’t publicly call for the Palestinians to stop reward payments to families of terrorists. And given the alternate reality in which Abbas seems to function, it is reasonable to assume that had Trump made the request, it would have been ignored.
And therein lies the problem with what appears to be Trump’s “vision” of Middle East peace — an approach that seems to put a premium on optics as opposed to substance, on speed rather than process, and on process instead of actual results.
Trump’s warm welcome of Abbas did nothing to address the fact that the Palestinians are unwilling to acknowledge that Israel is a state with which they must coexist. Flying the Palestinian flag at the White House isn’t going to change that; in fact, it might even make it worse.
So why did Trump go so easy on Abbas?
Some will lay blame at the feet of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was similarly warmly welcomed by Trump during a visit to Washington in February. Back then, Trump asked Netanyahu to ease up on the Jewish state’s continued building in Judea and Samaria. That hasn’t happened, and Trump doesn’t like to be ignored.
But while neither side seems interested in engaging in the kind of confidence-building measures that might reopen the door to serious negotiations, that doesn’t mean that the U.S. can’t use its influence and its muscle to move the process along. And the White House surely knows that.
So what is Trump’s game plan? How does he plan to catch the great white whale of a Middle East peace deal? And how does he plan to use that solution to help solve his overarching concern — the Rubik’s Cube that is America’s war against radical Islam?
Whatever the plan, we know one thing for sure: It is going to take more than photo ops to effect lasting change.