The US president is treating the Middle East peace process like a Manhattan property deal that he can bully to the table.
“It’s over. By tweeting that he has taken Jerusalem ‘off the table’ as an issue he has admitted that US diplomats were lying when they said Jerusalem’s status has not been decided. Instead he is trying to use blackmail and a blame game against the Palestinians. What he is admitting is there is no peace process and no peace plan.”
— Palestinian official, speaking anonymously
Donald Trump’s latest intervention in the Middle East peace process — one he has already upended by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital — looks to be his most chaotic move yet.
After appointing his son-in-law Jared Kushner as regional adviser and naming the fiercely pro-settlement lawyer David Friedman as his ambassador to Israel, the US president has blundered from crisis to crisis in recent weeks.
His speech recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital breached international consensus and UN resolutions. But the latest move — a threat to cut funding to UNRWA, the UN agency that supports Palestinian refugees, and to the Palestinian Authority — is more dangerous still, demonstrating a lack of understanding of the delicate mechanics that help maintain relative peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
Parsing the Trump approach several things are clear: the current administration sees threats to foreign assistance as a means of leverage and views conventional negotiating strategies used by past US administrations in the Middle East peace process as failures, with new tools required.
What is also evident is that Trump and his advisers regard the moves at the UN security council and in the UN general assembly to condemn the Jerusalem announcement as an escalation calling for a response.