With most people in the US still fixated on Flynngate, Donald Trump met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. If one wanted to exercise one’s cynicism, it would be reasonable to speculate that the timing of the Flynn resignation was in fact designed to coincide with taking the Israel-Palestine issue out of the headlines. But that assumes the US mainstream media would report on the issue fairly, which generally they don’t even on a slow news day.
On a personal level, the meeting between Trump and Netanyahu was predictably gushing, as the two leaders’ past Twitter love fest indicated.
But smiles aside, incorrect rhetoric on Iran aside, dubious claims that both the US and Israel are ‘fighting terror’ rather than selectively arming terrorists, there was something very important said: the US under Trump will wash its hands of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Trump said that the US would not act as a broker or negotiator in peace talks between the two sides, but that he expects Israeli and Palestinian leadership to reach an accord themselves.
Trump said that, “The United States will encourage a peace and really a great peace deal,” but that it would not actively participate in the process.
This is groundbreaking in many ways. Since at least the era of Jimmy Carter, the US has brought it upon herself to be the de-facto peace broker between Israel and Palestine. Each attempt has failed to create anything resembling a lasting peace and nothing reassembling any sense of justice for Palestine.
Now, though, Trump is essentially saying that he wants no part in any negotiations. Given the current political climate, it is unlikely that Israel and Palestine will be able to negotiate among themselves. Instead, Trump’s literally laissez-faire stance on the issue opens up the possibility for a genuine third party to negotiate a peace deal.
The obvious choice for this third party would be Russia. Russia has a history of support for Palestine and much of the Palestinian leadership were educated in the Soviet Union. At the same time, Russia is an important trading partner for Israel. Russia is one of the few major powers respected by both sides.
Last year, Sergei Lavrov stated that Moscow would be happy to host a summit between Israel-Palestine so long as both sides were prepared to strike a meaningful deal. In other words, unlike the previous US-led efforts, Russia does not want to waste anyone’s time.
The fact that recently the PLO, Hamas, and smaller Palestinian political factions agreed to form a united front and reached their agreement in Moscow, sends a signal that if anyone can solve this issue, Russia can.
Any meaningful settlement brokered by anyone is a long way off, but with US credibility among Palestine hovering around zero, the US has no leg to stand on in such a process.
Russia too, however, must be cautious about factions like Hamas who are openly calling for the removal of the legitimate government in Syria, in spite of the fact that Syria has done more to aid Palestine than almost any other country in the world.
Hamas are a danger, mainly to their own people, but unless they self-implode, they, unfortunately, have to be dealt with at the peace table. If Moscow gets involved, Russia must do what it can to emphasise the importance of leftist Palestinian groups who offer a sensible, secular way forward.
Between intractable Zionism, Palestinian treachery towards their own secular allies and a generally fraught region, Russia or anyone else who steps in will have a lot on their plate. No wonder Trump wants to make things easy on himself.