Donald Trump eyes mother of all deals in Middle East

Donald Trump is seeking to secure the elusive diplomatic 'Holy Grail'

Donald Trump is seeking to secure the elusive diplomatic ‘Holy Grail’

Donald Trump thinks he knows real estate but when he arrives in Jerusalem he will be stepping onto one of the most contested and difficult to price – in terms of peace at least – chunks of land in the world.

The US leader – whose presidency may be about to be consumed in the deadly vortex of a political storm – is hoping to be the man to solve the intractable conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Trotting though the Middle East is, of course, a well-trodden path.

Every US President has made the pilgrimage: trying to be the one who solves what is the ‘Holy Grail’ in diplomatic circles.

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The chances of Mr Trump doing what no one else before him has done are extremely slim.

But it is not beyond the realms of possibility that he may make a breakthrough; that is if his presidency survives that long.

US President Donald Trump shakes hands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
Image:Mr Trump’s recent meeting with the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was hailed a success

One prominent Israeli politician, who spoke to me on condition of anonymity, said Mr Trump’s pro-Israel stance and friendship with prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu – counter intuitively – may help secure a deal.

He is not Barack Obama, who was perceived by many here as an enemy of Israel, and is viewed as a staunch supporter of Israel.

The logic goes that he may be able to get Israel to walk to places and consider things that would have been rejected under the mediation of any other president.

All parties will also want to avoid the wrath of his famous temper.

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Mr Trump is also starting on the right foot by visiting Israel on his first foreign trip. In contrast Mr Obama waited four years before making the journey.

But as a businessman Mr Trump knows better than most that you cannot do a deal if the parties involved don’t want to talk turkey.

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Video:‘A disruptive presence on the world stage’

The mood in the Palestinian camp is generally optimistic: that’s the official line anyway.

The meeting Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, had at the White House a few weeks ago was heralded as a success and was described as “constructive”.

Senior Fatah official, Jibril Rajoub, believed Mr Trump is in a good position to get the negotiations restarted.

He said: “We think he is the potential candidate broker to settle this conflict and we believe the situation is right.

“On the national level for the first time the Palestinians are talking unanimously about the two-state solution, even Hamas changed its charter and they are ready to tolerate and accept the ’67 borders.”

The stars are also aligning across the Arab states. Mr Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia as first stop on his first foreign tour is significant.

Whilst Mr Obama was condemned for abandoning the Sunnis in favour of the Shiite Iranians, Mr Trump wants to the opposite and roll back Iranian hegemony.

He has condemned the previous administrations policies, which gave birth to the nuclear deal.

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In Israel, centre-left politicians like Tzipi Livni believe the time is right for the two-state solution once again.

She said: “Any agreement that any PM of Israel especially Netanyahu would put on the table would be supported by the vast majority of Israelis. It’s clear it’s part of every poll we are doing most of the Israelis they want to live in peace.

“They understand the two states for two people represents our interest. They are not this ideological group of settlers. It’s a small minority in Israel but they control this government.”

The Israeli Prime Minister’s political friends are a potential problem for the two-state camp.

Mr Netanyahu’s coalition is often characterised as being the most right-wing in Israel’s history.

Education minister Naftali Bennett, who heads up the religious Zionist Jewish Home party, is already at odds with his boss.

He and the people he represents – many of them settlers in the occupied West Bank – say two states for two people is one deal that’s not going to happen.

Mr Bennett said: “Look it’s no secret that I differ on this peace with the Prime Minister.

“I think inserting a second Palestinian state beyond that one in Gaza here in the heart of Israel would be a profound mistake. Right now the PM is pursuing that avenue I think everyone knows it’s going to fail.

“The fact that the international community is so obsessed with a Palestinian state a second Palestinian State beyond the one in Gaza is disappointing.

“You know I was a businessman. If one of my managers came to me and said I tried something three times the same thing and I failed three times I’d fire him you’ve gotta try different ideas.”

And this comes to the nub of the problem. We do not really know yet what Trump stands for, or what he will offer.

At first he appeared indifferent to the diplomatic orthodoxy of two states for two people between the West bank of the Jordan River and the Mediterranean.

Now his administration appears to be about to follow the path laid out by Oslo Peace Accords, but of course that could all change.

In his keynote speech on Tuesday listen carefully for him saying “two states”, or talking about the right of “Palestinian self-determination”.

Much though could go wrong.

Apart from anything else, Mr Trump’s presidency maybe about to be consumed by the raging political fires at home.

If, however, he solves one of the longest running conflicts in the world Mr Trump will go down in history as one of the greatest dealmakers of all time.


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