How Trump could surprise the world on Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking

Source: The Washington Post

November 30 at 6:59 PM

Dennis Ross, a counselor at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, was a special assistant to President Obama from 2009 to 2011. He is the author of “Doomed To Succeed: The U.S.-Israel Relationship from Truman To Obama.”

Like many of his predecessors, Donald Trump aspires to Middle East peacemaking: “I would love to be able to be the one that made peace with Israel and the Palestinians,” he said recently, adding, “I have reason to believe I can do it.” Bringing peace to the Holy Land has clearly had an allure for American presidents.

Even though his health was failing, Franklin D. Roosevelt chose to meet Saudi King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud in Egypt after the Yalta Conference because he believed he could persuade him to give “a portion of Palestine” to the Jews “without harming in any way the interests of the Arabs.” Dwight Eisenhower, under the code name Project GAMMA, employed Robert Anderson to work secretly with David Ben-Gurion and Gamal Abdel Nasser to forge peace — and was deeply disappointed when it failed. Richard Nixon, though suffering from phlebitis, traveled to Egypt, Israel and Syria in the waning days of his presidency, believing he could build real momentum for peace. For Jimmy Carter, Arab-Israeli peacemaking was the preoccupation of his presidency — and as he would later say, “the Middle East question preyed on [my] mind.” The only plan that would bear the name of our 40th president was the Reagan Plan for Middle East peace that Ronald Reagan presented on Sept. 1, 1982.

As Bill Clinton’s Middle East envoy, I saw firsthand how Arab-Israeli peace was his mission. It would lead him to host Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak at Camp David in the summer of 2000 and five months later to offer the Clinton Parameters for settling the conflict. George W. Bush might have come to it late but he would host a peace conference in Annapolis — and Barack Obama would make Israeli-Palestinian peace a priority at the outset of his presidency, later lamenting the failure of his secretary of state, John F. Kerry, to reach a peace deal after an intensive nine-month effort that ended in spring 2014.

Trump: ‘I don’t know that Israel has the commitment to make’ peace

Historically, presidents have been drawn to peacemaking for objective and subjective reasons. Objectively, most believed — incorrectly — that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the source of all regional conflict and that argued for resolving it. Subjectively, there was something deeper going on — there was a fascination with being the one to bring peace to the region that is the birthplace of civilization and three great religions. Holy Land conflict has always captured the attention of the world and drawn in American presidents. Its very intractability may also be a source of the attraction. Again, look at Trump’s description of it as “the ultimate deal.”

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