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March 14, 2017 3:13 pm

Middle East Expert: In Dramatic Shift From Obama, Trump Appears to Be Adopting ‘Bottom-Up’ Approach to Israeli-Palestinian Peacemaking

avatar by Barney Breen-Portnoy

ason Greenblatt meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Monday. Photo: Kobi Gideon / GPO via Netanyahu’s Twitter account.

Jason Greenblatt meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Monday. Photo: Kobi Gideon / GPO via Netanyahu’s Twitter account.

The Trump administration seems to be adopting a “bottom-up” approach to Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking that represents a dramatic shift from that held by the Obama administration over the past eight years, a former State Department Middle East negotiator told The Algemeiner on Tuesday.

“I think it is too early to tell about the details, but if you look at the elements of what Trump is trying to do, they are fundamentally different from what Obama tried to do,” Aaron David Miller — a vice president at the Wilson Center think tank in Washington, DC and a CNN global affairs analyst — said. “However, whether or not they end up in the same place is another matter.”

The Trump administration’s apparent goal, in Miller’s view, is not to reach a comprehensive peace deal now, but rather lay the groundwork for a potential future one — “by working with the Israelis on a set of confidence-builders on one hand, and trying to engage the Arabs states on the other, to get them to press the Palestinians and offer the Israelis incentives to go farther.”

One difference between the Trump and Obama administrations, Miller noted, is that “there is no effort [by the Trump administration] to box the Israelis in and create a public frame of reference on settlement activity…[Instead] they are trying to reach some sort of private agreement with the Israelis on where and what kind of settlement building is permitted.”

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Furthermore, Miller said, the Trump administration “seems to be less solicitous of Palestinian needs and requirements.”

“Yet,” he continued, “clearly the president’s phone call with [Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud] Abbas on Friday and Jason Greenblatt’s efforts to engage the Palestinians today in Ramallah suggests to me that at least they realize that this isn’t one hand clapping and they’ve got to somehow deal with both sides.”

On Monday, Greenblatt — Trump’s special representative for international negotiations — met for more than five hours with Netanyahu in Jerusalem. According to a statement released by Netanyahu’s office, the two “reaffirmed the joint commitment of both Israel and the United States to advance a genuine and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians that strengthens the security of Israel and enhances stability in the region.”

Netanyahu and Greenblatt, the statement said, also worked on reaching an understanding on settlement construction “that is consistent with the goal of advancing peace and security.”

At a joint White House press conference last month, Trump asked Netanyahu to “hold back on settlements for a little bit” — a request that surprised Israel.

On this matter, Miller said, the first questions are: “What is Mr. Netanyahu able to do on settlements that will pass the political test in Israel? And what is he going to get for it that he can use to make sure his coalition survives?”

“And the even bigger questions,” he went on to say, “are will it [an US-Israel settlement understanding] accomplish anything? In other words, will the Palestinians and the Arabs buy it and in turn pay something for it?”

“Whatever they agree on settlements has got to be, in my judgment, part of a broader package,” he stated. “If you want to achieve anything, it’s got to somehow be pre-layered. You remember what happened with the 10-month [settlement construction] freeze [in 2009-10]? Nothing.”

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