One of the hallmarks of American Middle East diplomacy has been the pretense that the Palestinians want peace, at least a peace where there is a State of Israel. That characteristic may be about to change thanks to an incident described in Newsweek that took place during President Donald Trump’s foreign trip when he called Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas a liar to his face during a meeting in Bethlehem.

Assurances that the Palestinians want peace

President Trump, upon assuming office, met with a series of world leaders in Washington eager to get the chance to meet him.

One of those leaders was Abbas, who, along with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, wanted to give the president his version of what is happening in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Abbas assured President Trump that his people, especially young people, want peace. Trump, in turn, told Abbas that he needed to end any incitement that his government was conducting, including the payment to families of dead terrorists.

What the Israelis told Trump

Trump was apparently surprised when the Israelis showed him evidence of Abbas’ personal involvement in inciting a wave of terrorist attacks, some of them involving the stabbing of random passersby by Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

The Palestinians regard both Jerusalem and the West Bank their sovereign territory. Israel maintains that Jerusalem is its undivided and eternal capital, a matter not subject to negotiation.

Confrontation in Bethlehem

The thing that shocked the Palestinians, especially Abbas, was apparently the anger that Trump expressed when he called them on the lies.

It is likely that no American president has been as direct and as angry as Trump was during the meeting. Usually, expressions of disappointment are expressed in more diplomatic language. President Trump does not speak diplomatically, but rather in plain English. He is not the sort of man to hold back when annoyed by someone, no matter if he is the leader of a quasi-state.

Implications for Middle Eastern policy

The United States is faced with two problems in the Middle East named ISIS and Iran. The grievances of the Palestinians are considered a distraction. American presidents of both parties have tried the impossible task of forging an Israeli-Palestinian peace based on a two-state solution. All of those attempts have broken apart like a ship on a rocky shore because of the inability of the Palestinians to even conceive of a peace in which Israel exists. Trump knows, because he was likely told this in Saudi Arabia, that even the Sunni Arab states are getting tired of the Palestinians. The Arabs see Israel as an ally against Iran. The Palestinians are just an annoyance.

The question is now whether Abbas and the other Palestinian leaders understand this new reality and adjust accordingly?

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