Editor’s Note: David A. Andelman is a visiting scholar at the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School and director of its Red Lines Project. He also is a contributor to CNN and a columnist for USA Today, and author of “A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today.” He was a foreign correspondent for The New York Times and CBS News in Asia and Europe. Follow him on Twitter @DavidAndelman. The views expressed in this commentary are his.
With Vice President Mike Pence receiving a hero’s welcome in Jerusalem from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu but a cold shoulder from Arab leaders from Palestine to Jordan, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas heads to Brussels to meet Europe’s foreign ministers. It’s a clear end run around Trump’s flailing efforts to broker peace in that corner of the Middle East.
With Pence at his side, Netanyahu pointed out that this is the first official visit by a senior American official to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, suggesting to a gaggle of reporters that the American Embassy could begin operations there “by next week.”
Hours later, Pence elaborated in a speech to the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, that the move will come next year – far earlier than originally anticipated.
The visit was a clear opportunity for Netanyahu to rub the Palestinians’ noses in the entire process. The Israeli Prime Minister beginning his first greeting: “Mr. Vice President, I’ve had the privilege over the years of standing here with hundreds of leaders and welcomed them, all of them, to Israel’s capital, Jerusalem. This is the first time I stand here where both leaders can say those three words, ‘Israel’s capital, Jerusalem.’”
Symmetrically, in Brussels, Abbas has chosen to ask Europe’s foreign ministers to recognize Palestine as a state. European leaders aren’t prepared to go quite that far – not yet – but could move substantially toward a formal recognition that only a two-state solution will work. Indeed, France is said to be determined to press European leaders to take a first concrete step by granting an “association agreement” between the European Union and the Palestinian Authority.
None of this is a good sign for any chance of a peace plan that started off a year ago to be brokered by Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, but apparently went off the edge of a cliff when the American President suddenly recognized Jerusalem as the official capital of Israel and pledged to move the American Embassy there.
Pence had a chilly reminder of just what the American future might be in much of the Arab world during his last stop before Jerusalem. In Amman, Jordan’s widely-admired King Abdullah II delivered some pointed remarks at a lunch, warning the vice president that he “had continuously voiced over the past year, in my meetings with Washington, my concerns regarding the US decision on Jerusalem that does not come as a result of a comprehensive settlement to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.”
Then, the king concluded: “Today we have a major challenge to overcome, especially with some of the rising frustrations.” East Jerusalem, he said, would have to be the capital of a Palestinian state co-existing with a “secure and recognized Israel.”
After their session, Pence described their dialogue as “candid but cordial,” adding that “friends occasionally have disagreements.”
Pence has had a succession of other disappointments in the course of what he’d clearly hoped would be a landmark swing through the region. A devout evangelical Christian, Pence was barred by the Palestinian Authority from visiting Bethlehem, while senior Christian clerics in Egypt – the first stop on Pence’s trip – canceled some long-planned events.
Indeed, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who to my eyes appears to be some kind of soulmate to President Trump, said his country would “spare no effort” in working toward a two-state solution. Another conversation that Pence described as “a disagreement between friends.”
This type of disagreement is spreading across Europe – a trend that Abbas is clearly poised to mine during his lunch with the continent’s foreign ministers. Each country, of course, will decide on its own how far to go toward recognizing a true Palestinian state or simply encouraging negotiations on a two-state solution.
So far, the Czech Republic is the only EU member to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, though Hungary did block an EU resolution condemning the American decision last year.
Most of the European leaders Abbas was meeting with Monday favor the emergence of the status of Jerusalem to be linked directly to a plan that will result in two states – Israel and Palestine – coexisting in the lands that both now contest.
At this point, with Europe squarely on the side of an even-handed approach and much of the Arab Middle East arrayed against the Trump initiative, the best solution for the United States, it would appear, is simply to step quietly aside and let others fill a vacuum that – back to the earliest days of the state of Israel – was filled by American voices, but that with one stroke have suddenly lost their standing.