Fast forward eight months, and that boast appears even more risible now than it did at the time. The clashes in recent days between Israelis and Palestinians make clear that there is no “peace” and no “new Middle East.” It remains the same blood-soaked mess as ever. The Abraham Accords were nice, but they did nothing to resolve underlying conflicts in Yemen, Syria, Libya — or the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is now seeing one of its periodic eruptions of violence, with Hamas inundating Israel with rockets from the Gaza Strip and Israeli warplanes striking back against targets in Gaza. The result is civilian casualties on both sides — although, as usual, far more among the Palestinians than among the better-protected Israelis.
Even those of us who are supporters of Israel must admit that the proximate cause of the current flare-up is Israel’s continuing land grab in East Jerusalem and the West Bank — something that Trump did much to encourage with his uncritical and unwavering support for his fellow right-wing populist, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. More than 9,200 Israeli homes were built in the West Bank during the Trump years with nary a peep of protest from Washington. Far from trying to curb Israeli expansion, as previous presidents did, Trump unwisely recognized Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights and cut off aid to the Palestinians.
Right-wing Israeli settlers have been trying to evict six more Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem by arguing that the houses belong to Jewish owners who were dispossessed during the 1948 Israeli War of Independence. Netanyahu has tried to portray this as an ordinary land dispute that the Israeli Supreme Court will adjudicate; a decision was due Monday before the violence spiraled out of control.
But Palestinians rightly point out that the Israeli legal system is biased against them. The law allows Israelis to claim possession of houses they lost in 1948 but does not extend similar rights to Palestinians. Palestinians see the looming evictions as part of an Israeli plan to take such firm possession of East Jerusalem that it can never be the capital of a future Palestinian state. Again, Trump made the problem worse by seeming to recognize Israeli sovereignty over all of Jerusalem when he moved the U.S. Embassy there from Tel Aviv.
Palestinians (and also Israeli Arabs) are angry, and predictably their protests have flared into clashes with Israeli police. Israeli officers even entered the Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam, firing rubber bullets and throwing stun grenades while battling Palestinian youths throwing rocks at them.
This gave Hamas the perfect excuse to jump into the fray under the guise of defending Palestinian rights in Jerusalem. But however legitimate the Palestinian grievances, nothing justifies the indiscriminate rocketing of civilians. This is a war crime, and Israel is fully justified in striking back as long as it makes every effort to minimize collateral damage.
It has long been obvious that a two-state solution is the only way out of this quagmire. But of the three major players — Hamas, the Palestinian Authority and Israel — none has a leader willing to make the slightest sacrifice for peace.
Hamas, despite cosmetic revisions to its charter in 2017, remains committed to the eradication of Israel. Mahmoud Abbas, the 85-year-old president of the Palestinian Authority, is willing to cooperate with Israel — but unwilling to sign a final settlement that would give up Palestinian claims such as the “right to return.” He has no legitimacy to do so in any case, because he is 16 years into a four-year term. He is so unpopular that he just postponed the first Palestinian elections since 2006, probably because he didn’t want to see gains by his rivals — including Hamas.
And then there is Netanyahu. He is now facing trial on corruption charges and desperately clinging to office as a caretaker prime minister. He has not been able to win a majority in four elections held in less than two years, but he stubbornly refuses to step down. The new battle with the Palestinians may be a godsend for him because it has delayed negotiations between Arab members of the Knesset and his rivals Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett to form a government.
Faced with this never-ending conflict, the best that the Biden administration can do is to try to lower the temperature and broker a cease-fire. (A good start would be to speedily appoint a U.S. ambassador to Israel and to reopen the East Jerusalem consulate to reach out to Palestinians.) The odds of successful peace talks remain remote. But at least President Biden won’t exacerbate the conflict as Trump did while foolishly patting himself on the back for bringing peace to the region.
In an earlier version of this article, the photo caption misidentified the Bahrain foreign minister. He is Abdullatif al-Zayani.