What to Expect From Trump’s Visit to Israel

Published May 22nd, 2017 - 05:00 GMT
Trump's visit will be closely scrutinized as he seeks ways to restart peace efforts. (AFP)
Trump's visit will be closely scrutinized as he seeks ways to restart peace efforts. (AFP)

U.S. President Donald Trump's visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories on Monday and Tuesday will be closely scrutinized as he seeks ways to restart peace efforts. Here are key issues:

What is the current state of the conflict?

Nearly 70 years after the creation of Israel, peace with the Palestinians remains a long way off. This year marks 50 years since the Six-Day War and the beginning of Israel's occupation. Peace efforts have been at a standstill since a U.S.-led initiative collapsed in 2014. Meanwhile, Israel and Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, have fought three wars since 2008.

Does Trump have a plan?

Trump has talked up his business experience in saying he wants to reach the "ultimate deal": Israeli-Palestinian peace. However, a detailed plan is not expected only four months after taking office. Trump is instead expected to seek ways to move the two sides closer together and build confidence, though there is widespread skepticism.

"Triggering the start of a process does not mean taking it until the end," said Palestinian political scientist Ali al-Jarbawi.

Can he bring the two sides together?

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have not had substantive direct talks since 2010. Abbas says he is ready to meet Netanyahu under Trump's peace efforts, and there has been speculation the U.S. president could seek to arrange a meeting while in the region. Many analysts see the prospect as unlikely.

Will he commit to the two-state solution?

Trump sparked concern when he backed away from the long U.S. commitment to a two-state solution to the conflict, saying he could support one state if it meant peace. An independent Palestinian state alongside Israel remains the focus of international peace efforts. National Security Adviser HR McMaster said Trump will "express his desire for dignity and self-determination for the Palestinians."

What role can Arab states play?

Trump arrives after a visit to Saudi Arabia, seen as essential to any peace efforts. Trump's White House has spoken of reviving the idea of a regional peace process, pulling in other Arab countries.

Analyst Ghaith al-Omari said the idea seemed to involve "key Arab States -- Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and other U.S. allies -- into a regional process that would create, as Trump called it, a 'bigger canvas' for reaching peace."

What position will he take on settlements?

Trump has been receptive to Israel's position that Palestinian leaders must do more to stop incitement to violence, including by stopping payments to the families of those who have carried out attacks and were killed or are currently in jail. But what will his position be on Israeli settlement building?

Trump has called on Israel to hold back on settlement construction, but his ambassador to Israel David Friedman has said "we have no demand for a settlement freeze."

A firm demand would put Netanyahu under pressure from his right-wing base. Israeli right-wingers rejoiced in Trump's election, believing it would allow them to move ahead with unrestrained settlement building and, for some, to move toward their goal of annexing most of the West Bank.

Will the U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem?

Trump vowed during his election campaign to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and to recognize the disputed city as Israel's capital. Such a move would break with decades of precedent. He has since backed away, saying the move was still being looked at, but there has also been speculation over whether he will make an announcement on the subject while visiting.

Who will visit the Western Wall with Trump?

Trump is expected to become the first sitting U.S. president to visit the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray. It is located in east Jerusalem, which Israel occupied in 1967 and later annexed in a move never recognized by the international community. Preparations for the visit have led to criticism from Israeli right-wingers after U.S. officials declined to say whether the Western Wall was part of Israel. Trump is currently planning to visit without being accompanied by any Israeli officials, though there has been speculation over whether that could change.

Naharnet © 2019

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