Playing 20 Questions to Figure Out the “Deal of the Century” 

Jared Kushner (Michael Candelori via Shutterstock)

by James J. Zogby  

I believe that it was Henry Kissinger who described his approach to running Arab-Israeli negotiations as creating the illusion of momentum to compensate for the lack of momentum. The goal wasn’t the outcome. It was to keep everyone involved in the process.?

Adhering to this maxim, successive generations of U.S. diplomats have “led” a peace process more for its own sake than for establishing a just and lasting peace. For decades, we had, what the Palestinians would say was “all process, no peace.”?The Trump administration has, it appears, now taken this approach one step further. Instead of wasting time trying to create the fiction of negotiations between an ideologically intransigent Israeli government and a weakened and dysfunctional Palestinian Authority, the Trump team promised to do the work themselves by putting together “the deal of the century.”

We have been awaiting the unveiling of this “deal” for almost two years and have been told at regular intervals that it would be forthcoming “in a matter of weeks or months.”  As I see it, the Kushner-Greenblatt-Friedman team may have found a way to create the reductio ad absurdum of Kissinger’s maxim by creating the illusion of a deal to compensate for the absence of a deal.

During the past two years, in order to keep the suspense growing as to exactly what the deal might include, there have been leaks from “official” (Arab, Israeli, and American) sources. These have, each in turn, been coyly denied by the Trump team with the cautionary note that their effort remained a work in progress and would only be revealed when it was completed and the time was right. Since most of the leaks have suggested proposals that were wholly unacceptable to the Palestinians, the Trump team have accompanied their denials with the warning that the Palestinians should not reject the “deal” until they see it – promising that it would include proposals that would improve their lives. These notes of caution have often come in the form of tweets from Jason Greenblatt who has, it appears, taken to trolling Palestinian leaders and even low-level operatives with advice and/or rude rebukes.?

And so we are left with questions galore as to what’s in the deal. The guessing game, itself, has become an industry of sorts – almost like medieval theological inquiries into the nature of the divine. Articles are written, debates are held, and Twitter wars explode. In each instance, the administration denies the guesses and chides those who guess, as the medieval church hierarchy might have done, with the injunction that we should be still and have faith, since the mystery will be revealed at the appropriate time.

I have come to see this “have faith” as nothing more than a cynical ploy to buy time. As a result, I am led to ask, “What if there is no deal of the century?” What if this entire enterprise is, as I suggested, merely “creating an illusion of a deal” in order: to keep the Palestinians quiet; hold the Arab world at bay; and the rest of us guessing?

What fuels my cynicism is the fact that during this same two-year period, while the “deal” was supposedly being concocted, the Trump administration and the Netanyahu government have been quite busy taking steps that make clear their intentions toward the Palestinians.

Trump has, in his words, taken “Jerusalem off the table” recognizing it as the capital of Israel. And by closing the U.S. Consulate and denying U.S. assistance to Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem, he has placed this captive Palestinian community wholly under Israeli control. Similarly, the Trump administration has attempted to take the issue of the Palestinian refugees “off the table” by suspending all aid the UNRWA and making clear that they do not consider the descendants of those who were forced into exile in 1948 to be refugees.

At the same time, by their silence, the Trump Administration has accepted Israeli unilateral actions that have predetermined the future of Palestinian lands and rights. Israeli settlements have expanded, illegal outposts have been legitimated, and Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes and exploitation of Palestinian resources and lands have accelerated at an alarming rate. Add to this the administration’s: suspension of all Palestinian aid; acceptance of Israel’s “Jewish Nation State Law;” failure to criticize Israel’s refusal to reimburse Palestinian VAT revenues;??support for other Israeli acts that have crippled the PA, while fostering divisions between the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza; taking action to protect Israel from the International Criminal Court; and efforts to criminalize support for BDS – all of which have contributed to furthering Palestinian powerlessness and Israel’s sense of impunity.

With this in mind, I suggest that the guessing game should be over. Even if there is a “deal of the century” (and I’m still an agnostic on that question), we can be certain that it won’t: end the occupation of the lands seized in the 1967 War; create true Palestinian sovereignty and control over their land and resources; give Palestinians the opportunity to freely and independently conduct commerce with the outside world; recognize the rights of Palestinian refugees; or do anything to reunite the areas now called “East Jerusalem” to Palestinian control.?Finally, the “hint” that the deal will throw money at the Palestinians to “make their lives better” is as insulting as it is pointless. But then, I’m not even sure that’s real.

My advice is that we stop playing along and let the Trump group have their cruel game of charades to themselves.

James Zogby

James Zogby co-founded the Arab American Institute in 1985 and continues to serve as its president. He is Director of Zogby Research Services, a firm that has conducted groundbreaking surveys across the Middle East. For the past 3 decades, he has served in leadership roles in the Democratic National Committee and served 2 terms as a President Obama appointee to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. He writes a weekly column published in 12 countries. He is featured frequently on national and international media as an expert on Middle East affairs. In 2010, Zogby published the highly-acclaimed book, Arab Voices.



  1. Excellent comments Mr. Zogby. Everything you say about Palestinian plight is also applicable almost to all of the things that this administration says. Lies masquerading as truths, propaganda, advancing the most right wing agenda domestically and abroad. The media has abetted and helped this desperate campaign of misinformation and propaganda by covering everything that Trump and his accolades say in print and on air.. Just ignore these liars. If every tweet and falsification that comes out of these pathological liars are covered on the last page of NY Times or Washington Post instead of making headlines, we have made a long stride in putting this dark age of American politics behind. Just don’t be ancillaries to these obfuscateors and evil doers.

  2. James, Great piece (in terms of accuracy!). So what options do Palestinians have and which are they likely to select? The past is littered with missed opportunities and offers being taken off the table after initial rejection. The old (terrible) adage that when the Palestinians are ready to accept the last offer they had rejected, it is no longer available. So what will they do? Nothing? throw more stones? Intefada 3.0?

  3. Charley. If you apply your logic to all other situations in the world and the life, the aggrieved have to take whatever their opressor gives them. Otherwise there is no choice. If you are raped, expelled are subjected take the money and shut up; there is nothing you can do in face of power. Insistence on your rights is a futile game.

  4. The Palestinians are not given a chance to have any of their demands/wishes/needs met, as the Israel/USA/”West” pretends to want solutions but never stops supporting the cruelty of Israel. Look at the “Oslo agreement”, never followed; the “withdrawal from Gaza” of Israel in 2005 -Israel kept to NONE of its promises; the constant attacks by the IDF in “reprisal” for a few rockets or concocted crimes by Palestinians in the WB. Who keeps to internatioal law?

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