Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center) takes Senator Lindsey Graham and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman on a tour of the Golan Heights on March 11.
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – Somewhere in the ‘90s, the Israeli Broadcast Association came up with a creative campaign to remind TV owners to pay the semi-annual fee. “What about the other half?” the TV ad said. The ‘90s are long gone, and the Israeli Broadcast Association in its old form has ceased to exist, as has the fee.
But when the peace team announced this Sunday that it would reveal the economic part of the peace plan on June 25 during a workshop in Bahrain, one could feel deja vu for that campaign: What about the other half?
For several weeks, the administration signaled that it would reveal the plan shortly after Shavuot on June 10. But an unexpected announcement from the administration last Sunday suggested that it would only reveal half of the plan, while the rollout of political part, which is supposed to lay out a foundation for a future peace treaty, is still to be determined.
The latest development caused some confusion on the Hill: What’s in the document? Why should the administration have two separate announcements? And what can we learn from the decision to focus on the economic part for now?
“I think there’s a lot of skepticism in the region that the political part is ever going to show up,” Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, told The Jerusalem Post.
“I think a peace deal in the region is only possible if there is both an economic component and significant political component. My worry is that the administration thinks that you can get the Palestinians to the table without any significant political concessions. I think that’s unlikely. Expectations are pretty low, and sometimes it’s good to have low expectations.”
Many people in Washington, both on the Right and on the Left, are wondering whether the current atmosphere is the right one for releasing a complicated plan that aims to end the conflict.
“I hope they aren’t going to release a plan they know is going to be rejected by the Palestinians immediately,” Murphy told the Post.
“I think if they’re releasing a plan that is immediately pushed aside by the Palestinians, it’s probably not worth releasing.”
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told the Post that the Palestinians’ refusal to participate in the economic workshop should indicate their reaction to the political part.
“If you’re not willing to work on the economic part, that tells you a lot about the willingness to work on the political part,” Graham said.
Graham asked how the administration can get the Israelis to sign a peace deal knowing that a large percentage of the Palestinian leadership are terrorists.
“The road map that I’m looking for is trying to get the lives of everyday Palestinians improved, and hopefully a government that Israel can do business with,” Graham continued.
He added that releasing an economic plan at this time is the right thing to do.
“I appreciate the administration [for] putting an economic plan on the table that would improve the lives of the Palestinians,” he said. “It would be a shame if the Palestinians miss this opportunity to move forward, but they’re known for missing opportunities.”
But while peace between Israelis and Palestinians is not forthcoming, one could argue that having an international conference with Israel and the Gulf states on regional issues is still an achievement, per se.
Murphy admits that, “it’s a credit to the United States and our partners in the Gulf that this détente exists between the Gulf states and Israel.
“It wasn’t long ago when the Gulf states were openly hostile to Israel’s interest,” he added. “Now they are possibly willing to put up significant money to help foster peace in the region. I don’t think anybody should understate the significance of how politics have changed in the region, and [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu has had a big role in that change.”
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Hill, there’s some frustration from the fact that the peace team is avoiding providing members of Congress with details about the plan.
Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch, chairman for the subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa, and International Terrorism in the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told
that it is “important for Congress to be a partner in an effort to lead for peace. The goal is always to work together to advance peace. And that’s what we hope to do.”
“My hope is that before a plan is released that we’ll have the same opportunity to discuss it as others around the world apparently have had,” he added, in an apparent barb regarding the administration’s decision to brief Arab states on the content of the plan.
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