The Slatest

Trump’s Bizarre Belief That Taking Jerusalem “Off the Table” Makes Peace More Likely

U.S. President Donald Trump (R) speaks with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, eastern Switzerland, on January 25, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Nicholas Kamm        (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, on Thursday.

One of President’s Trump’s more mystifying recent assertions is that his decision to unilaterally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel over the objections of Palestinians and every other government in the region will make Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations easier. He elaborated on this idea to reporters ahead of a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Davos Thursday:

He argued that in declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel, he’d taken the issue off the negotiating table – a move he said would make peace talks easier.

“We took Jerusalem off the table so we don’t have to talk about it anymore,” he said.

I may not have written The Art of the Deal, but I’m pretty sure that this is not how negotiations work. If I were applying for a job and negotiating salary, benefits, and vacation days, then told that I would be getting no vacation days at all so that the issue would be “off the table,” I don’t think this would make me more willing to compromise on salary and benefits.

Furthermore, the idea that now Jerusalem is “off the table” contradicts Trump’s speech on Jerusalem last month, when he stated that despite the recognition, “we are not taking a position on any final status issues, including the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem.” If the city’s sovereignty and boundaries are still to be negotiated, then how is the issue settled?

Trump also said today that Palestinian leaders had “disrespected us” by not meeting with Vice President Mike Pence during his Mideast trip and that the U.S. would cut off aid to the Palestinians unless they agreed to continue negotiating. “That money is not going to them unless they sit down and negotiate peace … That money is on the table.” (This poor table.)

The U.S. has already withheld funding to the U.N. agency tasked with providing services to Palestinian refugees; that decision came in response to the General Assembly vote condemning his Jerusalem move. This new threat to cut aid to the Palestinian Authority may just be bluster—for one thing, the Israelis might not be happy about it given that the PA coordinates security operations in the West Bank with Israeli authorities—but it doesn’t seem outside the realm of possibility that Trump will follow through on it.

Trump also said today that his administration has a peace plan ready to propose and that it’s “a great proposal for the Palestinians. I think it’s a great proposal for Israel.” If he’s talking about the same outline of a plan that’s been described in recent articles in the New York Times and Axios, it involves the Palestinians giving up the goal of having east Jerusalem as their capital, ceding a significant amount of territory to Israeli settlements, and giving the Israelis overriding control of security and borders in the new Palestinian state.

Trump did say today that Israel would have to make concessions as well, but the events of this past month—the Jerusalem announcement, the U.N. cuts, Pence’s visit—haven’t done much to suggest this administration would place similar, or even any, pressure on the Israeli side.

The Trump administration maintains that it’s still interested in continuing the peace process and getting to “the ultimate deal,” but its version of the process seems to be the U.S. dictating Israel’s terms and punishing the Palestinians for objecting to them.

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Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and author of the forthcoming book, Invisible Countries.