Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Trump versus Iran - the state of play

                                                                                  Video version
        May 2019 saw a marked deterioration in the long-running US-Iran standoff,  a deterioration that has continued right through to the end of June.  Back on 8 May Washington announced it had acquired credible intelligence suggesting a possible Iranian attack on US troops on the ground and at sea. Accordingly the Pentagon dispatched an aircraft carrier, B-52 bombers and other military resources to the Gulf.

        On 24 May Vice-Admiral Michael Gilday, director of the Joint Staff, announced a further deployment. “We have had multiple credible reports,” he said, “that Iranian proxy groups intend to attack US personnel in the Middle East.”

        In response the Pentagon decided to send additional American troops, drones and fighter jets to the Middle East, including some 1,500 US military personnel, a Patriot battalion to defend against missile threats, and a fighter aircraft squadron.

        Referring to a recent rocket attack in Iraq, armed drone attacks on Saudi oil pumping stations and the sabotage of four vessels including two Saudi oil tankers, Gilday said: “We believe with a high degree of confidence that this stems back to the leadership in Iran at the highest levels.”  Then came the limpet-mining of a Japanese-owned oil tanker in the Straits of Hormuz, and the shooting down of an unmanned US drone flying over international waters.

        Iran’s leadership at the highest level, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, like his predecessor Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeni, has never concealed the fundamental purposes of his administration – total opposition to the Western democratic way of life, to the United States as leader of the Western world, and to Israel’s existence. Allied to this is the ultimate objective of the Iranian Islamic Revolution – to displace Saudi Arabia’s Sunni hegemony over the Muslim world and replace it with their own Shi’ite interpretation of Islam.

        US president Barack Obama chose deliberately to ignore these basic building blocks of Iran’s regime. Obama came into office feeling guilty about America’s strength and its political record. In his apology tour, which began in Strasbourg on April 3, 2009, he said that throughout the nation’s existence, "America has shown arrogance and been dismissive even derisive” of others. If the power of the US could be reduced, he declared, then America would have the “moral authority” to bring murderous regimes such as Iran into the “community of nations”.

        His mention of Iran at that early stage is significant. A widely-held view among political analysts is that the “signature issue of Obama’s diplomacy”, as political scientist Amiel Ungar puts it, was to transform US-Iranian relations, with the aim of using Shia Iran to help defeat Sunni Al-Qaeda. In 2014 the Wall Street Journal revealed that Obama had exchanged secret correspondence on at least four occasions with Iran’s Supreme Leader, attempting to engage Iran in the anti-Islamic State conflict.

        The deal to limit Iran’s nuclear capabilities in exchange for a lifting of sanctions − a high-water mark of Obama’s legacy − was pursued on the grounds that it would encourage Iran to adopt a more reasonable approach to its dealings with the West, and might even end decades of hostility. In the event the opposite was the case. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard spent the billions of dollars they acquired in expanding their malign influence throughout the Middle East. Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon and Israel have all been on the receiving end of unprovoked acts of Iranian aggression.

        In Syria, Iran used its alliance with President Bashar al-Assad to build what amounts to a state-within-a-state, just as it did in neighbouring Lebanon in the 1980s when it set up Hezbollah. By 2016 it had become clear that, in the process of facilitating Iran’s journey into the comity of nations, the Obama administration had boosted Iran’s efforts to extend its influence across the Middle East. In consequence the US lost the confidence, and much of the respect, of its erstwhile allies such as Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States and Egypt, all of whom had good reason to regard Iran as their prime antagonist.

        Did Obama’s placatory approach result in any softening of Iran’s visceral hatred of the “Great Satan”? Not one jot. “The slogans ‘Death to Israel’ and ‘Death to America’, “ proclaimed Khamenei, just after the nuclear deal was announced, “have resounded throughout the country.... Even after this deal, our policy towards the arrogant US will not change.”

        Donald Trump denounced both Iran and the nuclear deal from the start, and after he was elected president soon withdrew from the deal and re-imposed sanctions that severely harmed Iran's economy. He has consistently accused Tehran of breaching the spirit of the nuclear deal and supporting extremist groups in the Middle East. He recently ordered countries worldwide to stop buying Tehran's oil or face sanctions of their own, and placed new sanctions on Iran's metals, its largest non-petroleum-related source of export revenue.

        Despite a show of bravado, the Iranian leadership is rattled. Though the EU opposed Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal and is seeking to maintain its trade ties with Iran, its proposals for economic guarantees have been judged "insufficient" by the Supreme Leader. Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, has questioned whether Europe has the will to continue with the current deal.

        Trump’s economic pressure has caused Iran’s leadership major domestic difficulties. Rallies and street protests, centered on the worsening economic situation and the ever-rising food and commodity prices, keep bursting out spontaneously across the country. Some morphe into opposition to the government. A major cause for complaint are the foreign adventures indulged in by the regime, including direct involvement in the Syrian civil conflict, and costly military and logistical support for Hezbollah in Syria, for the Houthis in Yemen and for Hamas in Gaza. The vast sums expended in these foreign adventures are seen as being at the direct expense of the Iranian population.

        Doubtless, against this domestic unrest the leadership sets its success on the world stage. Iran’s geopolitical reach extends through Iraq, into Syria, then to Lebanon and out as far as the Gulf state of Bahrain. The achievement of this strategic Shia Crescent has been a dream of the radical Iranian leadership for decades. It is now a reality. Iran’s leadership feel confident they can out-maneuver any sanctions that the Trump administration may impose.

       As for the danger of outright war, both Washington and Iran, in the midst of the blood-curdling threats they utter against each other, have indicated that they have absolutely no desire for military conflict.

Published in the Eurasia Review, 31 May 2019:

Published in the MPC Journal, 31 May 2019:

Saturday, 25 May 2019

The Destruction of the Shtetl

Grigory Kanovich’s latest novel tells of the dramatic and heartbreaking fate of a Lithuanian town called Mishkine.
          The towering chronicler of shtetl life in its heyday was, of course, Sholem Aleichem. Its disintegration has been recorded with humanity and deep understanding by Grigory Kanovich in his great success “Shtetl Love Song”. Now he recounts its destruction – ultimately a tale of violence and death that Aleichem could never have envisaged – in “Devilspel”.

          Kanovich focuses our attention on Mishkine, an obscure Lithuanian township. Here Jews and Lithuanians have lived side by side for generations, separate in their religious beliefs and customs, but with lives inextricably interwoven. Intermarriage is far from unusual. Conversion one way or the other not unknown. Indeed, one central character, a young half-Jewish Lithuanian called Yuzik, falls in love with Elisheva, a Jewish girl, is converted by a rabbi and has himself circumcised. But before the novel’s end, in an ironic twist of fate, Elisheva has been baptized by the local priest in an effort to protect her from the Nazi invaders and their Lithuanian collaborators.

          “Devilspel” is set in the summer of 1941, the period during the Second World War when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union. Within a week Lithuania, ruled by the USSR since the Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939, is in German hands. Many Lithuanians, resentful of the rule of their historic Russian oppressors, greet the invaders as liberators. Relationships are torn apart as collaborators hasten to implement the anti-Jewish orders of their new masters.

          In Mishkine – as in townships across Lithuania – virtually all the Jewish inhabitants are rounded up, slaughtered and buried in a communal grave in a forest clearing. Kanovich, concerned above all with the individuals of his town, their lives and their fracturing relationships, chooses not to describe the massacre in any detail, but concentrates instead on the way of life that it cut short, and the aftermath.

          The sense of a world on the brink of extinction permeates the novel. Significantly Mishkine’s Jewish cemetery, run by Danuta Hadassa, the non-Jewish widow of the deceased Jewish grave-digger, features prominently. Danuta symbolises the complex mixture of origins, faiths and relationships that characterized Lithuanian shtetl life in its final stages.

          Danuta has two sons, Yuzik and Aran, who fall in love with Jewish sisters, Elisheva and Reiza, the daughters of the town’s tailor, Gedalya Banksheva. Yuzik – or Yakov as he came to be known after his conversion – helps his mother run the graveyard, while she herself, once totally ignorant of Judaism, comes to cherish the Jewish dead she finds herself in charge of. The girl he loves, Elisheva, works on an isolated farm and is thus not included in the round-up of the town’s Jews. Not knowing what has become of her relatives, she returns to the family home, only to find it occupied by her father’s old apprentice, Juozas, who is now a leading figure among the pro-German Lithuanians. When she learns what has happened to the Jews of the town, she insists on being taken out to their mass grave in the forest to say her farewell, and Juozas, who was once sweet on her, reluctantly shows her the place.

          The experience is too much for her to bear, and the next day Juozas finds her dead. He brings her body to the Jewish cemetery, where Yakov buries her. But Juozas, fearing Yakov will tell the authorities about “his seditious kindness and dangerous tolerance”, denounces him to the authorities, who come for him the next day. The novel ends where it began – in Mishkine’s Jewish cemetery – now deserted and overgrown, inhabited only by the ravens who daily “tried to awaken the dead with their ominous cawing.”

           Grigory Kanovich was born into a traditional Jewish family in the Lithuanian town of Jonava. He was twelve on the outbreak of the Second World War, and fled with his parents, spending the war years in Kazakhstan and the Ural Mountains. When they returned in 1945, they discovered that during the three-year German occupation more than 95 percent of Lithuania’s Jewish population had been massacred. Kanovich conceived it to be his life’s work to record for posterity the collective memory of past generations of “Litvaks” – Lithuanian Jews.

          In “Devilspel”, as in his “Shtetl Love Song”, Kanovich uses both the precision of direct personal knowledge, and deep emotional perception, to chronicle for us the very spirit of the shtetl-township, its way of life, and the motives, ambitions and passions that move its inhabitants, both Lithuanian and “Litvak”. However in this work he goes further. He takes as his central theme the moment when the old way of life stood on the very brink of extinction, and he imagines for us the swirl of emotions and the turn of events that might have been in play as it finally came to an end. “Devilspel”, a remarkable literary work, appeals to both heart and mind. For anyone who wants to understand how past generations of millions of today’s Jews spent their lives, it is required reading.

Published in the Jerusalem Post, 17 May 2019

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Britain bans Hezbollah

This article appears in the edition of the Jerusalem Report dated 27 May 2019

          Al Quds Day in 2019 falls on May 31. Al Quds, literally “The Holy One”, is the Arabic term for the city of Jerusalem. The occasion, despite its twenty-year history, is not one that commands much universal recognition. 

          In 1979 Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini declared that the last Friday of Ramadan would henceforth be consecrated as Al Quds Day, an annual opportunity for all enemies of Israel to have a field day. To mark the occasion those so inclined around the world organize marches and rallies to denounce Israel and declare their support for the Palestinian cause.

          The UK has witnessed Al Quds Day rallies for many years. A dominant feature, as demonstrators chanting slogans and waving banners parade through central London, has been the preponderance of the yellow and green flag of Hezbollah, the organization dedicated to destroying Israel. That flag will be notable by its absence from the rally being planned for 3 pm on June 2, 2019.

          Britain has had a long relationship with Hezbollah. and has disengaged from it only slowly. The divorce was made final on 26 February 2019, when Home Secretary Sajid Javid announced in the House of Commons that he was banning the organization as a whole under the Terrorism Act 2000.

          “We are no longer able to distinguish between their already banned military wing and the political party,” said Javid. “Because of this, I have taken the decision to proscribe the group in its entirety.” Anyone expressing support for any part of Hezbollah could in future face a prison sentence of 10 years.

          Although Labour’s front bench spokesman maintained that there was no new evidence justifying a change in the UK’s position, the Labour party did not oppose the measure.

          The UK first banned what was then described as Hezbollah's “terrorist wing” in 2001. This followed a long succession of terrorist attacks against Western targets, and culminated in the abduction by Hezbollah in 2000 of three Israeli soldiers from the Israeli side of the Israel-Lebanese border, and their subsequent murder.

          In 2008 the UK added what it designated Hezbollah’s “military wing” to its ban, after the organization targeted British soldiers in Iraq. But it reserved judgment on the organization as a whole, citing as its reason Hezbollah’s direct involvement in the internal politics of Lebanon.

           As a consequence, since Hezbollah’s so-called “political wing” was not proscribed, the rally parading through the streets of London every year to mark Al-Quds Day was legally entitled to display the Hezbollah flag. Distasteful as this annual display of racism was to many Londoners, and as much as successive Home Secretaries disapproved, it was not an offence to do so.

          Any distinction between so-called “military” or “political” wings of Hezbollah – a distinction which the EU copied from the UK – is illusory. Presenting the new measure in the Commons, Javid said: "There have long been calls to ban the whole group, with the distinction between the two factions derided as smoke and mirrors. Hezbollah themselves have laughed off the suggestion there is a difference. I've carefully considered the evidence and I'm satisfied they are one and the same with the entire organization linked to terrorism."

          And indeed Hezbollah’s deputy secretary-general, Naim Qassen, declared in 2012: "We don't have a military wing and a political one...Every element of Hezbollah…is in the service of the resistance." He added unequivocally: “We have one leadership, with one administration." In short, Hezbollah is a unified organization, and its jihadist purpose is basic to its existence.

          A glance at Hezbollah's organization confirms this. It has a unified command structure consisting of five sub-councils, or assemblies. Above them sits the Shura Council, which controls the leadership of Hezbollah and all its operations, and comprises nine members, seven of whom are Lebanese and the other two Iranian.

          Iran’s involvement at the very top of today’s Hezbollah is no surprise. In the 1970s Lebanon, torn apart by civil conflict, was under the occupation of the Shia-aligned Syrian government. Around 1980 – the exact date is disputed – Iran’s first Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomenei, still basking in the glory of his 1979 Islamic Revolution, decided to strengthen his grip on Shi’ite Islam by consolidating a number of Lebanon’s militant Shia Muslim groups. He formed and funded a body calling itself Hezbollah, or “the Party of God”. Its forces were trained and organized by a contingent of 1,500 Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

          Hezbollah declared that its purpose, in line with Khomeini’s, was to oppose Western influences in general and Israel’s existence in particular. Very shortly Hezbollah was acting as Iran’s proxy in perpetrating a campaign of terror against their two perceived enemies. A wave of kidnappings, bombings and assassinations were carried out across the world. These include the detonation in 1983 of an explosive-filled van in front of the US embassy in Beirut, killing 58 Americans and Lebanese, and the bombing of the US Marine and French Drakkar barracks in Beirut, which killed 241 American and 58 French peacekeepers.

          In 1992 Hezbollah operatives boasted of their involvement in the bombing of the Israeli embassy in Argentina killing 29 people, and two years later claimed responsibility for the bombing of a Jewish community centre in Argentina and the subsequent death of 85 people. The atrocities continued: 21 people, including 12 Jews, killed in an airplane attack in Panama in 1994; the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing inside Saudi Arabia killing 19 US servicemen; the 2005 assassination of one-time Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri; the 2012 Burgas bus bombing in Bulgaria killing 6. Over the eight years of the Syrian civil war Iran recruited thousands of Hezbollah fighters to help keep President Bashar al-Assad in power and restore his lost territories to him.

          It is no surprise, therefore, that Hezbollah in its entirety has been designated a terrorist body by the Arab League, as well as by a batch of other nations including Canada, the Netherlands, the USA, all the Gulf states that form the Gulf Cooperation Council and, of course, Israel. Now the group is joined by the UK, but notably absent from the list is the United Nations. In praising Britain’s decision, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, said: “We will continue to lead the struggle for the Security Council to recognize Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, and mobilize the international community against it, as it serves as an arm of Iran to spread Tehran’s aggression.”

          During its 38 bloodthirsty years of existence Hezbollah has nevertheless managed to achieve a certain acceptability in Shia Muslim sections of Lebanese society. In the election that followed Israel's withdrawal in May 2000 from the buffer zone that it had established along the border, Hezbollah, in alliance with Amal, took all 23 South Lebanon seats out of a total 128 parliamentary seats. Since then Hezbollah has participated in Lebanon's parliamentary process, and has been able to claim a proportion of cabinet posts in each government. As a result it has achieved substantial power within Lebanon’s body politic, to a point where it has been dubbed “a state within a state”.

          In Lebanon’s 2018 general election Hezbollah again strengthened its parliamentary position. When the subsequent political deadlock was finally resolved on January 31, 2019 and a government was formed, the organization was allocated three ministries including, for the first time, the Ministry of Health which controls one of the country’s largest budgets. In addition the Finance Ministry is in the hands of a Hezbollah ally.

This situation causes a delicate diplomatic dilemma for all the states that have proscribed Hezbollah. In supporting the ban in the House of Commons, UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt said; “We are staunch supporters of a stable and prosperous Lebanon. We cannot, however, be complacent when it comes to terrorism. It is clear the distinction between Hezbollah’s military and political wings does not exist, and by proscribing Hezbollah in all its forms the government is sending a clear signal that its destabilizing activities in the region are totally unacceptable and detrimental to the UK’s national security.”

But Hunt added: “This does not change our ongoing commitment to Lebanon, with whom we have a broad and strong relationship.”

Because Lebanon’s constitution is itself a precarious balancing act between its various religious factions, it has coped with this unsatisfactory position for two decades. But if Hezbollah’s power within the Lebanese administration ever became dominant, Britain might have to think again about its relationship with Lebanon itself.

Published in the Jerusalem Report, 17 May 2019:

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Sudan ablaze

                                                                                Video version
          Back in June 1989 a Colonel Omar al-Bashir led a bloodless military coup in Sudan. Once he had ousted the previous regime, it was not long before he assumed full executive and legislative powers, declared himself President and established a dictatorship. He ruled Sudan for a full 30 years with an iron grip.

         He who lives by the sword dies by the sword. Bashir’s 30-year rule came to an end on 4 April 2019, when widespread popular uprisings precipitated a coup by the military which ousted him. The Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), the umbrella group representing those agitating for complete change in Sudan, are determined that this uprising will not be hijacked by another military junta.

          Currently the military group that engineered the coup rules through a Transitional Military Council (TMC). Sensitive to the popular mood, the TMC have agreed to hand over power to civilian rule, but the two sides are by no means in one mind about the details. Still to be settled is the composition of the "presidential council" that will temporarily replace the head of state, and also how and when an interim parliament and government will be established.

          The African Union (AU) has been acting as honest broker. It is well-placed to do so. Founded in 1999, its membership consists of 55 nations located on the African continent. After a meeting on 6 May 2019 between UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Moussa Faki Mahamat, representing the AU, a joint UN-AU communique welcomed "AU-led efforts to facilitate a consensual and civilian-led transition, in close coordination with the UN".

          The AU initially gave the military coup leaders 15 days to hand over power, but extended the deadline to 60 days. It strongly supports the concept of a civilian-led transitional government as the next step for Sudan.

         Sudanese protesters rally outside the army complex in Khartoum on 18 April 2019

          When Bashir seized power in 1989, Sudan – then Africa’s largest country – was in the midst of a 21-year civil war between north and south. Eventually Bashir acknowledged that secession by the south was the only way forward. Following a referendum, South Sudan split from the north and became independent in July 2011. It was the culmination of more than a century of armed struggle by southern Sudanese activists.

          Demography lay behind the conflict. Most inhabitants in the north are Arab by descent, and Muslim by religion. The south is home to most of the 570-plus Sudanese tribes, very few of whom are either Arab or Muslim. A fair proportion were converted to Christianity by western missionaries.

          Towards the end of the nineteenth century Sudan became the focus of interest by Western European colonial powers. The Blue and White Niles converge just outside Khartoum, Sudan’s major city, and Britain, France and Belgium laid claims to it. Britain had plans for an irrigation dam at Aswan, in Egypt, and needed control of the Nile’s headwaters. In line with the gung-ho philosophy of the time, the British government authorized Brigadier Horatio Herbert Kitchener to conduct military campaigns against the unstable Sudanese regime, nominally in support of the Egyptian government which had previously held power. Kitchener’s campaigns culminated in a decisive victory in the battle of Omdurman in September 1898 – and as a result he was created an Earl, and took the title Lord Kitchener of Khartoum.

          Sudan was subsequently administered by Egypt, under Britain’s watchful eye, in an arrangement known as the Condominium Agreement. It lasted from 1899 to 1955, but tensions were present from the start between the northern part of the country and the south, which soon began demanding autonomy if not outright independence. Fifty years of continuous civil conflict ensued, only brought to an end with the signing of a peace agreement in January 2005. Subsequent negotiations led eventually to southern Sudan splitting from the rest of the country in 2011 and achieving independence.

          But as Bashir was signing the 2005 peace agreement with the south, another conflict was breaking out in the western region of Darfur. Claiming government discrimination against the region and its non-Arab population, rebels took up arms. The brutal measures employed by Bashir to suppress this led to his being accused by the International Criminal Court (ICC) of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

          Despite an international arrest warrant issued by the ICC, Bashir organized, and unsurprisingly won, consecutive elections in 2010 and 2015. And so far he has avoided arrest, even when he ventured outside Sudan. For example in 2017 he visited Jordan for an Arab League summit. On 6 May 2019 the ICC ruled that Jordan failed to meet its international legal obligations to arrest Bashir during that visit. The ICC appeals chamber said that a sitting head of state does not have immunity from arrest for alleged grave crimes, even when the leader is from a country that has not joined the ICC.

         Media reports claim that he is being held in Kober prison in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital. The transitional military council that assumed control in the country has said they would not hand Bashir over to face justice at the ICC, but could try him in Sudan or a forthcoming civilian government could do so. Meanwhile not only is Bashir wanted by the ICC, but Sudan’s public prosecutor has ruled that he is to be interrogated on charges of financing terrorism and money laundering.

          Bashir’s fate has become one element in the negotiations aimed at settling the civil conflict and returning the country to civilian rule.

Published in the Eurasia Review, 12 May 2019:

Published in the MPC Journal, 12 May 2019:

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Trump's deal of the century – straws in the wind

                                                                            Video version
          Following Israel’s general election and Benjamin Netanyahu's victory at the polls, Washington announced that the Trump peace plan – dubbed by the President as “the deal of the century” – would be unveiled after Ramadan, which in 2019 concludes on 4 June. In short, there is little more than a month to go before the big reveal.

          Meanwhile the Palestinian leadership is redoubling its efforts to build Arab opposition to the plan, none of whose details have yet been revealed. Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas has toured Arab capitals seeking a consensus to oppose it, whatever it contains and whenever it is revealed.

          While in Cairo in April 2019, Abbas attended a meeting of Arab League foreign ministers and urged them to support Palestinian opposition to the deal. Abbas’s new prime minister, Mohammed Shtayyeh, appointed after a recent PA government reshuffle, met a visiting Democrat US Senator in April. Their reported exchange revealed the extent of the fears generated within the PA about what the secret plan might actually contain. Simply on the basis of speculation the Palestinian leadership is pretty certain that it is going to endorse Israel annexing parts of the West Bank, thus destroying the two-state solution and any chance of establishing an independent Palestinian state on pre-1967 lines.

          At about the same time a Hamas official in the Gaza Strip announced the formation of a new body called “The Higher National Commission for Resisting the Deal of the Century”. The official said that the body consisted of Palestinians from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, as well as from Arab and Islamic states, who would discuss mechanisms for strangling the not-yet-born peace plan at birth. He urged all Palestinian factions to resort to “armed and popular resistance” to the Trump deal.

          Meanwhile, on 23 April Jared Kushner gave an interview at Time Magazine’s 100 Summit, an annual gathering of the world’s most influential people. For the first time, in discussing the peace plan that he has been heading for the Trump administration for the past two years, he gave some insight into its construction. His peace team had studied all the different past efforts, said Kushner, and analysed how and why they had failed.
          “We’ve taken, I think, an unconventional approach,” he said. “Normally they start with a process and then hope that the process leads to a resolution ... What we’ve done is the opposite. We’ve done very extensive research and a lot of talking to a lot of the people. We’re not trying to impose our will.”

          He called the Arab peace initiative of 2002 a very good attempt, but if it had been workable, “we would have made peace a long time ago.” His peace team had decided on a bottom-up focus. “How do you make the lives of the Palestinian people better? What can you resolve to allow these areas to become more investable? We deal with all the core status issues because you have to do it, but we’ve also built a robust business plan for the whole region.”

           Avoiding a question about the two-state solution he said: “I think that the document you’ll see, which is a very detailed proposal, is a … comprehensive vision for what can be if people are willing to make some hard decisions … There’ll be tough compromises for both [sides].”

          Kushner said he was hopeful that when Israel and the Palestinians examined the proposal they would recognize that “this is really a framework that can allow us to make our lives all materially better. And we’ll see if the leadership on both sides has the courage to take the lead to try to go forward.”

          Taking his lead from Kushner, US ambassador to Israel David Friedman was also prepared to indicate the direction of travel the peace team had taken. He told the media that the plan was an effort “to think out of the box and capture the imagination and hopes of both sides for a better life.”

          Asked about the rationale of unveiling the plan if the Palestinians had already rejected it, Friedman drew a distinction between the Palestinian people and its leadership.

          “The Palestinian people deserve the opportunity to consider a meaningful alternative to the status quo,” he said, “as does Israel. We see value in presenting that vision, even if the initial Palestinian leadership reaction is negative.”

          Finally in an interview with CNN in mid-April, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo set out the strategic objectives of the peace initiative. He described it as "a vision that has ideas that are new, that are different, that are unique, that tries to reframe and reshape what’s been an intractable problem ,,. We hope that we can get to a better place. Everyone wants this conflict resolved. We want a better life for the Israelis without this conflict, and we certainly want a better life for the Palestinian people."

          Both Trump and his peace team have indicated in the past that their initiative is indeed not so much a plan as a deal, a give-and-take proposal in which both sides would be expected to compromise. Until the details are revealed, it would be impossible for either Israel or the Palestinians to predict whether the benefits on offer would justify the sacrifices demanded.

The main obstacle to its favourable reception is that the PA leadership is scarcely in a compromising mood. They have rejected Trump as an honest broker following his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and his recent declaration in support of Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights. What can Trump put on the scales to outweigh that?

Published in the MPC Journal, 4 May 2019:

Published in the Eurasia Review, 5 May 2019: