In staking his claim to a prize that has eluded many a leader before him, Trump previewed the nascent outlines of an approach that — if he sticks with it — ditches bipartisan orthodoxy, borrows some old ideas and, Middle East experts say, will be no easier to pull off now than in the past.
As Trump declared his deep support for the Jewish state, he abandoned the bedrock principle that the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will come via two states for two peoples. Instead, he referred to the possibility of an Arab-backed peace process, an idea that’s been floating around since the beginning of this century without producing results.
“The United States will encourage a peace and really, a great peace deal,” Trump declared at a news conference alongside Netanyahu. “We’ll be working on it very, very diligently.”
Asked whether he was abandoning the idea of a two-state solution, Trump said, “I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like.”
He continued, “If Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I’m happy with the one they like the best.”
He also said at one point, “It is the parties themselves that must directly negotiate. Both sides will have to make compromises.” Then turning to Netanyahu, he added a question: “You know that, right?”
Trump described the idea of Arab involvement as “actually a much bigger deal, a much more important deal in a sense. It would take in many, many countries and it would cover a very large territory.”
Trump has said his chief negotiator for Middle East peace will be his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who has already been meeting with influential Arab leaders, such as Jordan’s King Abdullah and UAE ambassador to the US Yousef al-Otaiba.
“I think we have some pretty good cooperation from people in the past who would never, ever have even thought about doing this,” Trump said, “so we’ll see how that works.”
Sachs said that Trump seems to think the regional approach is new.
“It’s not,” he said, pointing to a 2001 Saudi initiative that proposed Arab recognition of Israel in exchange for peace with the Palestinians and Syria and an independent Palestinian state whose capital was East Jerusalem.
It was adopted by the Arab League in 2002 and re-endorsed in 2007 but has yet to lead to a resolution to the conflict.
While Jordan and Egypt have formal peace deals with Israel, Gulf states don’t have formal diplomatic relations with Jerusalem and would have to sell a deal to their citizens before publicly improving ties.
“They’ve got to be able to sell their closeness to Israel to their own domestic politics as, among many other good things, something that’s helpful to the Palestinians,” said Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow at the Arab Gulf States Institute. “The idea that Israel wouldn’t have to do much on the Palestinians and have major progress with the Gulf states, that’s a misread of the political dynamics.”