As Israel’s staunchest ally, the United States must not allow electoral politics – including the tempest of Israel’s regrettable travel ban on two Congresswomen – to distract from the more urgent priority of taking concrete steps to improve the lives of Israelis and Palestinians while minimizing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There are two formulas: improve Palestinian quality of life without compromising Israeli security and minimize the conflict by narrowing the disagreements between Israelis and Palestinians.
The goal of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is laudable, but conditions on the ground are not ripe, including the worsening deadlock in US-Palestinian relations, which could reach the breaking point if a US peace proposal is seen as walking back commitments to Palestinians.
The US president and Congress would do better to take bipartisan steps that substantially improve day-to-day quality of life for Israelis and Palestinians and offer a modicum of hope for both peoples. Doing so will preserve the possibility of a comprehensive agreement until a more favorable political dynamic develops and reduce the risk of renewed, all-out violence.
To work, steps must be taken by Israel and the Palestinian Authority in concert with the US. The sequencing can establish a sense of reciprocity. Here are 10 steps the US could take right now:
1. Reaffirm our commitment to Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge and acknowledge Israel’s security needs in the Jordan Valley.
2. Reaffirm our commitment to confront Iranian aggression and commit to include Iran’s support for terrorism in future negotiations.
3. Reaffirm that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.
4. Encourage Arab states to advance normalization with Israel and increase economic assistance to the Palestinians.
5. Enhance training and investment in Palestinian security forces.
6. Restore USAID health care, education and democracy promotion programs for Palestinians.
7. Reopen the Palestinian diplomatic office in Washington and reestablish the US consulate-general in Jerusalem, separate from the US Embassy.
8. Acknowledge that Palestinians have a legitimate claim to a capital in east Jerusalem.
9. Invest in Palestinian economic, transportation and technological development and promote joint Israeli-Palestinian projects.
10. Pass the bipartisan Partnership Fund for Peace Act of 2019 to promote people to people relationships and economic cooperation.
PALESTINIANS CAN realize some of the benefits anticipated from the Oslo Accords over 25 years ago and demonstrate that they remain a “partner for peace” by taking these 10 steps:
1. Expand Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation.
2. Acknowledge Judaism’s historical connections to the land of Israel, including the existence of the Temple.
3. End payments to terrorists.
4. Remove language from official media and educational materials which incite violence.
5. Utilize accurate maps in textbooks and the media that acknowledge the State of Israel.
6. Demonstrate commitment to freedom of worship for Jews at holy sites not under Israeli sovereignty.
7. Engage with Israel and the international community on joint economic, environmental, health and transportation projects.
8. Articulate the possibility of Jewish settlements in the West Bank remaining under Palestinian sovereignty.
9. Halt punitive measures against Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip, and promote investment in healthcare, infrastructure and long-term development.
10. Pursue the political reintegration of Gaza with the West Bank.
Israel also stands to gain strategic, diplomatic and economic benefits by taking these 10 steps:
1. Expand Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation and complete the security barrier in the West Bank.
2. Develop Palestinian transportation networks to create territorial contiguity and enable technological advances in the West Bank including 4G broadband.
3. Expand Palestinian autonomous zones and refrain from annexation of West Bank territory.
4. Increase the number of permits for Palestinians to work in Israel and encourage joint Israeli-Palestinian business ventures.
5. Continue building Israeli housing in settlement blocs and freeze construction east of the security barrier route.
6. Preserve territorial contiguity between Palestinian areas of east Jerusalem and the West Bank.
7. Enhance electricity and sewage capacity in Gaza and relax export restrictions.
8. Ease Palestinian travel abroad and increase the number of student visas.
9. Facilitate building permits for Palestinian homes in Area C and transfer jurisdiction of Jerusalem neighborhoods beyond the security barrier to the Palestinian Authority.
10. Utilize accurate maps in textbooks and the media that acknowledge the Palestinian territories.
Taking these coordinated steps to improve living conditions and minimize the conflict would break the political impasse between Israelis and Palestinians and strengthen moderate camps in both societies and the Arab states. This tactical approach will engender transatlantic unity and even find common ground with Russia and China. Likewise, it will isolate Iran and put terrorist groups on the defensive. The international consensus that could develop around taking steps to minimize the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be the catalyst to spur otherwise moribund political leaders to act.
The writer is president of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace in Washington and previously served as a US representative from Florida from 1997-2010.