Trump’s ‘One-Night Stand’ Diplomacy

Despite his reputation as a deal-maker, President Trump’s first foray into the thicket of Israel-Palestine peace talks suggests he has no clue what direction to take or the long-term consequences, notes ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

Donald Trump had already moved a long way backward since uttering a few remarks last year raising hopes that he would break out of the straitjacket that binds American politicians on all things involving Israel and the Palestinians and that he would try to be an impartial peace-maker.

Donald Trump speaking at the Iowa Republican Party’s 2015 Lincoln Dinner at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines, Iowa. May 16, 2015. (Flickr Gage Skidmore)

Trump later made his peace with Sheldon Adelson, adopted AIPAC’s talking points as his own, and appointed to be U.S. ambassador to Israel a bankruptcy lawyer who is directly involved with West Bank settlements, is politically somewhere to the right of Benjamin Netanyahu, and likens American Jews who do not agree with him to Nazi collaborators.

Then this week, in a joint press conference with Netanyahu, Trump appeared to abandon what had been U.S. policy through several administrations, Republican and Democratic, of support for creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel as the only feasible and durable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The President’s exact words were, “I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one that both parties like.  I can live with either one.”

As has become typical with so much of the policy of this month-old administration, confusion reigns. The next day, Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, told reporters, “We absolutely support a two-state solution.”

Probably the best interpretation of what was going on at that White House press conference is consistent with insights offered by former U.S. ambassadors to Israel Daniel Kurtzer and Daniel Shapiro, both of whom describe the joint appearance in terms of two leaders dealing with domestic pressures and wanting to look chummy with each other, rather than as an occasion for announcing new diplomatic departures. Specifically, Trump’s comments were a favor to Netanyahu in dealing with the extreme right-wing of his own governing coalition, by pouring some cold water on the two-state concept without Netanyahu having to utter the words “two-state solution” himself.

Not Making Sense

As random and disorganized as Trump’s tweets, blurts to reporters, or other verbal expressions may be, when the president of the United States says something it either is policy, at least declaratory policy, or affects policy. And so it must be noted how utterly unreal, and divorced from the concept of a true peace agreement, was Trump’s responding to a question about backing off from commitment to a two-state solution by talking about what “both parties like,” as if there were anything that both parties like right now that would not be a two-state solution.

Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, addresses the general debate of the General Assembly’s seventy-first session.
22 September 2016 (UN Photo)

The only thing that the vast majority of Palestinians would “like” is getting their own state or, failing that, full and equal rights for Jews and Arabs alike in a single state. But that latter alternative would be disliked by most Israelis (not just the extreme right) insofar as it would imply, for demographic reasons, destruction of the concept of Israel as a Jewish state.

Trump tosses these words around amid apparent thinking within his own administration and Netanyahu’s about an “outside-in” approach in which development of relations between Israel and some Arab states would lead to Arab pressures on the Palestinians to settle their own conflict with Israel. This notion is far removed from any realistic peace, and not only because the key to ending an occupation is not to pressure the occupied party, who does not control the situation on the ground, rather than the occupier, who does control it.

The notion also is merely a derivative of right-wing hopes in Israel, based on finding some common cause with some Gulf Arabs in disliking Iran, that the international opprobrium and isolation of Israel that results from its occupation and apartheid policies can be kept indefinitely at tolerable levels. That is a strategy for indefinitely continuing the occupation and apartheid, not for ending that arrangement and achieving peace.

The Arab states have had their position on the table for 15 years in the form of the Arab peace initiative, which lays out in simple form the basic trade of full recognition of, and peace with, Israel in return for an end to the occupation and just settlement of the Palestinian refugee problem. The Arab peace plan was modified later to make clear that it includes the possibility of land swaps that would not require all of the West Bank to be returned to Arab sovereignty.

There is no reason to expect Saudi Arabia or any of the other Arab governments involved to abandon the concept enshrined in this initiative. And however much one talks about the Arabs’ distractions with their own intramural problems, the sentiments among Arab populations as well as regimes regarding the plight of their co-ethnic brethren in Palestine is not about to be flushed down the toilet by pressuring Palestinian leaders to accept some bantustan-like arrangement and calling it a peace settlement.

Fast Deals/Fast Money

As with other early moves of President Trump, his posture on this set of issues illustrates a more general tendency of his regarding governing. Trump billed himself as a master deal-maker, but supporters who liked him for that reason should have looked more carefully at the sorts of deals he was accustomed to making. Most of his business deals were more like one-night stands than like lasting relationships. Sell naming rights, pocket the cash, and let someone else worry about running the enterprise that bears the Trump name.

Mahmoud Abbas, President of the State of Palestine, addresses the United Nations General Assembly. September 22, 2016 (UN Photo)

Even when Trump’s own organization was more directly involved in a property, there was a tendency toward cutting and running. His business record featured repeated stiffing of suppliers and sub-contractors and, when necessary, repeated bankruptcies — help on which evidently is part of what earned the settlement-loving David Friedman that ambassadorial appointment.

Note how often Trump’s foreign policy is referred to, by himself and now by others, in terms of whether “a deal” will be made with some other country, whether it is Russia, China or some other state. Foreign relations should not be thought of in such a one-shot, pointillist way. Foreign relations, and how they affect U.S. interests, are instead a matter of continuing relationships in which interests are always intermingling, colliding, and evolving. “One and done” may work for aspiring pro basketball players, but not for U.S. foreign policy.

This is as true of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as of other sticky foreign policy problems. Pressuring Palestinians into something that can be labeled a “deal” but does not respond to ordinary human aspirations for a better life and national self-determination does not make a problem go away. It can make it even worse. It can come back in the form of intifadas, terrorism, or something else that damages the interests of Israelis and Americans as well as Palestinians.

Trump may not have to worry about such things any more after either impeachment or re-election defeat, but the rest of us will.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is author most recently of Why America Misunderstands the World. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.) 


25 comments for “Trump’s ‘One-Night Stand’ Diplomacy

  1. Am defender
    February 20, 2017 at 17:11

    It is improper to state that the Palestinians were driven out by the Israelis. It would be more appropriate to state that the majority of Palestinians who left did so out of blindness and followed the orders which they received from Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Egypt, all of whom intended on driving this Israelis into the sea. From 1948 until the 1967 War, the Palestinians hoped that the Arab states would drive the Jews into the sea. They seriously miscalculated, however, and the outcomes of both wars left them in worse shape than if they had accepted the UN partition decision. The Palestinians’ delusions were fed by the statements of Arab leaders that created the misperception (which persists to this day) that the Arab states care about their fate. In fact, the Palestinians have always been despised by most of their fellow Arabs and viewed as pawns in the larger geopolitical struggle involving Arabs, Muslims, Jews, Israelis, Christians and the West.

    Thus, when the Arab states invaded Israel in 1948, they did so for purely selfish purposes; that is, the desire to carve up Palestine among themselves. Israel managed to prevent the invaders from completely overrunning their new state; however, the Gaza Strip was seized by Egypt and Judea and Samaria by Jordan. The fact that neither country was prepared to permit the creation of a Palestinian state on their watch is further evidence of their disinterest in Palestinian independence. During the 19 years of Jordan’s occupation, the Palestinians made no demands for statehood and King Hussein showed no interest in conceding the territory he conquered, including East Jerusalem, to the Palestinians. Moreover, when the PLO challenged Jordanian rule in 1970, King Hussein’s forces killed approximately 5,000 Palestinians and expelled Yasser Arafat and his minions.

    • February 23, 2017 at 10:31

      Again. Why is all that any business of “we the people”?

  2. brent
    February 20, 2017 at 02:30

    Keeping my fingers crossed but its looking to me Trump is employing a “wild/crazy man style of leadership and has a grasp of where he’s going.

    His one state or two comment has and will change the whole narrative on the Question of Palestine. It incentivizes those who want first and foremost a Jewish State to propose possible paths to two states. Equality will divide Israel and Jews everywhere to come to terms with the dissonance inherent in the Zionist dream.

    Palestinians have a history of missing opportunities. Lets hope they appreciate how powerful a campaign for equality would be.

    • JWalters
      February 20, 2017 at 06:01

      I largely agree. What stood out to me at the Trump-Netanyahu press conference were three things. (1) On a public world stage he asked Netanyahu personally to stop building settlements. (2) He publicly acknowledged the widespread off-media belief that a two-state solution is no longer realistic, with the effects you noted. (3) He specified that the Palestinians as well as the Israelis should be happy with the solution. As a bundle, if he maintains these points, they are a huge re-orientation of the discussion in a more realistic and just direction. Also potentially significant, he didn’t meet with Netanyahu before the press conference to get approval for any of these statements.

      Trump said plainly during the primaries that Bush II lied to the American public in order to start the Iraq war. This freaked out the neocons, who are Deep State talking heads. But the GOP voting base agreed with Trump. And Israel has a prominent role in the Deep State, described in “War Profiteers and the Roots of the War on Terror”.

      It appears the Deep State’s board of directors are pulling out all the stops in their attempt to take down Trump, using both the CIA and the MSM. But it’s not to save the American public; it’s to preserve their privileges as predators.

      Any president who would resist the Deep State (and its war profits agenda) would have to be extremely cagey. The JFK assassination warned all future presidents, while also opening the door to the Vietnam war.

  3. February 19, 2017 at 20:54

    I must say, we don’t need any scurrilous illusory ad hominem attacks from someone who cannot even frame a coherent argument, Mike Locklear, and this world problem is bad enough without your ignorant two-cents.
    I had no idea Trump even had any historical knowledge of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict other than having a Jewish son-in-law. Clinton in the past has claimed the “special status” of Israel. Israel gets an occasional verbal criticism from USA but still gets their 3.9 bn annually. I think you, Bill Bodden, hit the nail right on the head that, short of a miracle or environmental catastrophe, the apartheid situation of the Palestinians continues. I have read that earth’s drought may be hitting Israel but don’t have details, but if so, would be a major factor In changing the equation.

    It is ironic that Netanyahu and his Likud party have ruled Israel for about 30 years, I believe. If Netanyahu is not an autocrat, I am misinformed. And they get no condemnation for their heinous actions while it’s non-stop criticism of Russia!

    One can only hope that the good people of Israel who truly disapprove of their government’s mistreatment of the Palestinians, and there are many, might make a breakthrough. It seems these dissenters are suppressed by the forces of their deep state. In the meantime, I won’t knowingly buy Israeli goods.

    I have read that the plan for the state of Israel was made at the end of WWI by a Rothschild in British Parliament but could not be brought to fruition until WWII through the Balfour Declaration because of the Nazi Holocaust. The idea was to create a state to buffer the sectarian Arab land divisions that were laid down by the western colonial powers in the Sykes-Picot Accords at WWI end.

    Actually, Jewish people had been persecuted for centuries because of their differences from Christian belief. They were even blamed for the Black Plague in Europe and were nearly purged from whole areas, killed en masse. This long history of oppression may be embedded in the Jewish psyche and then ironically twisted into their becoming the oppressors. Whatever the reasons, the current situation requires an enlightened leader in Israel, which they have never had. The Naqba, or Catastrophe of 1947-1948, is the Palestinian “Trail of Tears”, as they were brutally driven out by the Israelis from their new land, and they can never forget it. I doubt that Trump knows anything of it, nor many others in Congress. They don’t even view the Palestinians as people, the Israeli leaders have often referred to the Palestinians as “dogs”.

    • Curious
      February 19, 2017 at 23:41

      Historically it has been almost easy to define a race of people. as dogs, savages, ‘unlike ourselves’, lacking brain capacity etc I think it is seldom in the war hopefuls, to create an enemy who is more cultured, more intelligent, and more human than the aggressor mentality and the simple desire to bomb and create human disasters around the world.

      What is particularly offensive to me is Israel won’t admit to the nuclear ambitions of their own nor nukestock of weapons, as if it is some huge secret in today’s world. They don’t want to join the rest of civilization by being bothered with nuclear agreements or disarmament treaties. I would suspect any weapon treaty would be considered anti Semitic somehow. Israel is deliberate in their attempt to not tell the world anything about themselves militarily as a country but the hand is always out for more money from the US. They have nuclear power, and billions in ‘per diem’ from the US and are perpetually crying tears about anti- semitism at any correction of their beligerance, warmongering or the killing of Palestinians

      The next time one hears a politician bought and paid for by Jewish lobbyists talk about “entitlements” from some ethereal class of Americans I would like it to be said Israel is the most entitled place on the planet and they honor that gift by creating the largest open air prison in the world.

      • Am defender
        February 20, 2017 at 17:47


        The United States and Israel signed a 10-year $38 billion foreign assistance agreement that made headlines and reinforced the misperception that Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. foreign assistance and that this aid represents a significant percentage of the U.S. budget. It is not true.

        The Washington Post conducted a review of the 2017 U.S. foreign assistance budget. The paper calculated the total amount of economic and development assistance at $25.6 billion and security assistance at $16.8 billion making a total of $42.4 billion. In 2017, Israel is scheduled to receive $3.1 billion, which is only 7 percent of the overall aid budget and 18 percent of the total allocated for security assistance. The number one recipient of aid, specifically security assistance, is not Israel, however, it is Afghanistan ($3.6 billion).

        U.S. aid to Israel is also an infinitesimal fraction of the overall American budget. Most Americans mistakenly believe that foreign aid comprises a significant share of all government spending. For example, a Pew study cited in the Post found that, on average, respondents to a 2015 survey thought 26 percent of the federal budget went to foreign aid. The actual figure is about 1 percent.

        Israel is grateful to receive more than $3 billion to strengthen the U.S.-Israel alliance, and that is a lot of money, but critics who suggest this is such a significant sum that domestic needs are going unmet don’t tell you that this represents .07% of the $4 trillion budget.

        • February 23, 2017 at 10:29

          Am Defender.

          Maybe you have a reasonable answer as to why Israel should be important to “we the people”. What do we get for all the billions in aid to Israel? Where is the ROI on all the blood and treasure spilled in ME wars that only benefit “greater Israel”? With only 2% of US being Jewish, how do “we the people” benefit from supporting a Jews only country? We don’t support any Christian only countries and we are traditionally a Christian country. Why, in spite of our failing economy, un-payable national debt and crumbling infrastructure should we send one penny to Israel.

          Don’t say holocaust because one holocaust does not justify another. Don’t bother to call me an anti-semite because I fully support the semitic Palestinians right to the land they have lived on for centuries.

          I have never heard a reasonable answer.

    • Joe J Tedesky
      February 20, 2017 at 05:00

      Below is a slice of Edmund deRothschild’s Wikipedia page I always get a kick out of deRothschild wandering Jew comment;

      It is estimated[by whom?] that Rothschild spent over $50 million in supporting the settlements and backed research in electricity by engineers and financed development of an electric generating station.

      Jews and Arabs lived amicably on Rothschild’s land, with no Arab grievances, even in the worst periods of disturbance.[citation needed] According to historian Albert M. Hyamson, “Rothschild recognised that the overriding interest of the Jews of Palestine was the confidence and the friendship of their Arab neighbours. The interests of the Arab cultivators of the land he bought were never overlooked, but by development he made this land capable of maintaining a population ten times its former size.”[2] He suggested in 1931 to Judah Magnes that ‘We must hold them (the Arabs) down with a strong hand.’ [3] In a 1934 letter to the League of Nations, Edmond de Rothschild stated that “the struggle to put an end to the Wandering Jew, could not have as its result, the creation of the Wandering Arab.”[4]

    • Am defender
      February 20, 2017 at 18:10


      Please provide some quotes or direct citations to back up your charge that “the Israeli leaders have often referred to the Palestinians as “dogs”. I believe this is a falsehood and intentional misstatement of fact.

  4. Herman
    February 19, 2017 at 18:10

    “And so it must be noted how utterly unreal, and divorced from the concept of a true peace agreement, was Trump’s responding to a question about backing off from commitment to a two-state solution by talking about what “both parties like,” as if there were anything that both parties like right now that would not be a two-state solution.”

    Does anyone believe looking back that the two state solution was anything but a hoax, perhaps pursued in good faith by one side and used as a cynical delaying tactic by the other to allow its taking of Palestinian land to continue? Do any agree that that a one state solution is on the table by default and it is the best hope for the Palestinians living west of the Jordan to have their rights as human beings restored?

    Does Paul Pillar believe in a two state solution? Does Noam Chomsky or my favorite Israeli Uri Avnery really believe there can be two states side by side and afforded true sovereignty, the sovereignty say afforded to France, Germany or the United States? If in desperation, the likes of Netanyahu create a state for the Palestinians, what a farcical outcome that would be.

    So Trump likely inadvertently but perhaps not has moved the possibilities in a more hopeful direction. Perhaps Ben Carson has chimed in; his thought to find a new home for all those Palestinians somewhere.

    Regarding Uri Avnery, he is my favorite Israeli. Coming to Palestine in the thirties, he has seen it all and clings to the hope of two states out of his respect for the Palestinians and the hope of having a truly Jewish nation. A very good man who I respectfully disagree with, as if he cares.

    • Bill Bodden
      February 19, 2017 at 19:50

      Does anyone believe looking back that the two state solution was anything but a hoax,..

      It is beyond reason after observing the charade of the Israeli-Palestinian “peace” talks for several years that anyone other than the hopelessly naive could believe the Israeli negotiators were sincere or that the United States was an honest broker. The roles played by Israelis and Americans in this on-going tragedy have cast indelible stains of immorality and shame on them and their respective nations.

      As for the estimable Uri Avnery, he probably hopes – perhaps against hope – there will be a two-state solution for the sake of the Palestinians. The alternative is to accept the ignominy of another grotesque act of injustice when the Israelis complete their “final solution” against the Palestinians.

      • Herman
        February 20, 2017 at 02:48

        Bill Bodden, Israel is capable of a lot of things, but I do not believe a “final solution” is one of them. Full rights for the Arabs in the new state might be slow in coming, but that is not unusual historically. Look at our own history with black Americans.

  5. Mike Locklear
    February 19, 2017 at 15:03

    Paul Pillar’s former(ly^good) reputation now resides in that same realm as Robber Parry’s. He did his biddin’ for Evil(= Cheney/Bush), Inc. to pave the way to “our” never-ending state of war by knowingly putting his name(/reputation) on the National Intelligence Estimate “white paper” doled out to We The Duped. And, voila, Saddam “probably” had WMD. He & (Trump-tissue) Robber Pussy richly deserve the company of each other…

    • Bill Bodden
      February 19, 2017 at 16:28

      Mike: Perhaps you might share with us some of your achievements that are superior to Robert Parry’s.

      • Mike Locklear
        February 20, 2017 at 18:39

        Bill… Prerequisite: Are you prepared to allow that reality is often stranger than fiction? That politics makes for grotesquely paired bed-fellows(/whores)? That an “average nobody” could emerge from among the “great unwashed” and prove himself John F(uckin’!). Kerry’s 2004 (secret weapon, off-staff) strategy advisor… AND THAT ROBBER PU$$Y WOULD CHOOSE TO SIDE WITH UBER-U$ER KERRY OVER WE THE^PEOPLE AND OUR RIGHT TO KNOW(* THE MOST IMPORTANT TRUTHS)? If so: Let’s converse earnestly ([email protected])…

        • February 23, 2017 at 09:58

          To borrow a line from Hawkeye, “since you put it that way… what do you mean?

          We are on the same side if you hate “W” Bush and the rest of the neocons infesting our government. I think of “W” as the idiotic, murderous “gentle son” of his father, Bush the Long Shanks. If you think Skull and Bones, John Kerry was some sort of remedy, well I don’t agree. It is my biggest disappointment in Trump that he put a Skull and Bones, Goldman Sachs, parasite in charge of the Treasury.

          Write On. But, know that your writing style, though it shows great enthusiasm, does not communicate. Your effort is wasted.

    • D5-5
      February 19, 2017 at 18:55

      This comment is offensive and should be removed in my view. If you have an argument to make then make it instead of all this demonizing. It stinks, and you ought to know that.

      • fudmier
        February 19, 2017 at 20:52

        I think it might be a good idea to development some NEOCON pins: several possibilities come to mind
        MY TEAM REGIME CHANGED _____________; the country is now in complete disarray
        ALL INFRA STRUCTURE OF __________ HAS BEEN DESTROYED; life there has been reduced to caveman quality.
        FORWARD resumes to NEOCON.WANTABEE@death and destruction.warforprofit

        It was necessary to elect Trump because the only viable alternative was less qualified for the job. Whose fault is that? Certainly not the fault of the American voter; no one gave the voter a chance to appoint a person of their choice.

      • John
        February 19, 2017 at 21:01

        I did not find it offensive…..allow it

  6. Bill Bodden
    February 19, 2017 at 14:08

    An early assessment of Trump’s election as president was that he was the price we (Americans) would have to pay for dodging the Clinton bullet. Similarly, Trump is also the price Palestinians will have to pay – not that they would have had better prospects from another Clinton administration. The Palestinians have been screwed by the Zionists and their progeny for nearly a century and will continue to suffer until some miracle occurs or a catastrophic disaster hits Israel.

    • chollie
      February 20, 2017 at 23:03

      In order to dodge that Clinton bullet, you jumped in front of the Trump train.

      • February 23, 2017 at 09:35

        When your high rise is on fire you jump out the window and hope for the best. Trump is not a politician. He will stumble some but at least he is stumbling in the right direction being stabbed in the back at every turn. He is still the only hope of restoring the republic. 30 years of entrenched criminality and sabotage can’t be undone in a few months.

  7. Wm. Boyce
    February 19, 2017 at 14:00

    All I can say is that there’s some bad Swedish meatballs out there, YA!

  8. Joe J Tedesky
    February 19, 2017 at 13:53

    And boy do I have a deal for you. As for now I’m willing to accept Trumps ‘deal’ making as his way of talking. Until his deals come to fruition I will hold judgement.

    Trump will have earned his metal for more of what he may have said to Netanyahu in the back room away from the microphones and the White House press core. Trump could also be at Netanyahu’s every beckoning. I don’t know, but I’m as anxious as anyone to see what does transpire.

    When it comes to Trump lining up with his various appointees, why is it I think misalignment will be the hallmark of his Adminstrations profile. He will continue to say ‘deal’ while the others around him will call it ‘official policy’. I would not expect to see or hear Trump be any different in speech and style than he was yesterday, or he was more than forty years ago….for the sake of the deal for crying out loud he’s Donald J Trump!

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