A new Israeli-American dialogue for the Trump era

The two governments, the one in place and the other still in formation, have already begun their dialogue.

January 23, 2017 20:26
4 minute read.
Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu meet at the Trump tower

Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu meet at the Trump tower. (photo credit: KOBI GIDON / GPO)


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As a retired American Foreign Service officer living in Jerusalem for the past 20 years, I have been fascinated by the public discussion taking place in Israel as to what to expect from the new US administration inaugurated on January 20. This is especially true having had the honor to be an associate in governor Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign foreign policy team under the leadership of Dick Allen, then to become the new president’s national security adviser. I therefore know well that electioneering rhetoric is one thing, whereas actual implementation through the various new cabinet departments may be another.

The two governments, the one in place and the other still in formation, have already begun their dialogue with regard to future dealings between them and the hope and prayer for a truly new relationship. Still, a few dialogue principles are always relevant: keep political surprises by either side to a bare minimum; think not just what each ally can do for the other, but what both can do together; use the term “radical Islamic terrorism” as often as appropriate; reemphasize that Iran, not Islamic State (ISIS), is the world’s major problem, for now. Iran is a sovereign state, ISIS isn’t, and Iran is only eight years or less away from converting nuclear weapons capability into actual deployment with the help of North Korea.

Building on these principles, a number of issues will surely come up as such dialogue advances. The following thoughts have already been circulated privately to government circles and can now be made public: Iran could easily be branded as an “Evil Empire” just as president Ronald Reagan did with the USSR – about half Iran’s population is not ethnically Persian! Such an informational offensive would delegitimize the ayatollah state itself, not just the regime. Such an offensive could usefully advocate federalism for all its peoples, a federalism that would allow them all to benefit from the fruits of democracy.

The “problem of Palestine” can best be approached by first accepting the principle that there is no place for two sovereign states in one land. The territory of the Palestinian Authority is already a state. The issue rather is what degrees of sovereignty it should have, if any.

The new government in Washington, DC, could reaffirm the statement in president Bush’s letter to prime minister Ariel Sharon of April 2004 that “in light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic to expect ... a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949....” This important letter was crafted to provide Sharon with local political support for total Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Most tellingly, it was totally ignored by the Obama administration from its day one. It is interesting that even into the last days of his administration, president Barack Obama continued intentionally to obfuscate the otherwise obvious difference between “increased settlement” and “new settlements.”

Any new US presidential letter in this same sense should not use the phrase “contiguous and sovereign” when describing a future Palestinian state. Given the further advances in civil engineering technology over the past 13 years since the original Bush letter, the Palestinian Arab state, with limited sovereignty, need not be territorially contiguous, and yet free access can still be inscribed in any final-status agreement. A model would be the existing access routes between Palestinian Arab areas around the major Gush Etzion settlement bloc. A new paradigm for communal peace in one land would thereby come into existence.

Creation of disparate new settlement outposts could be subject to close consultation. Possibly, any plan for such new outposts could be asked to show how they would not impinge on Palestinian Arab community access through, around, under or over them. Increased Israeli population growth in existing communities in Judea and Samaria should not pose any problem in keeping with the meaning of the original Bush letter and the welfare of both Palestinian Jews and Palestinian Arabs.

All US and Israeli aid for Palestine Arabs should be linked to bilateral Israeli-Palestinian projects; international donors should be encouraged to do the same.

A major increase in resources should be mobilized to encourage such local bilateralism and economic development.

Together with this new approach, it would also be good for all sides to encourage Israeli private capital investment in Palestine Arab areas for profit and major employment.

Last, but surely not least, a concerted information campaign should be mounted to explain that moving the US embassy to West Jerusalem only prejudices one thing: the fantasy of Jerusalem’s eventual internationalization.

Such long overdue move need not lessen the hope of some for a Palestinian Arab state with its capital in east Jerusalem, together with an American embassy there as well. Working together, Israel and America should encourage other embassies to follow suit in a return to Jerusalem.

Treading purposefully and deliberatively, the new Trump administration, drawing on the Netanyahu government’s judicious counsel, can cut a new path in its relations with Israel after so many years of failed Obama foreign policies. We should wish the new relationship with Washington God-speed while remembering the old adage: it’s always best to deal with what is rather than with what isn’t.

The author served several American presidents as a US Foreign Service officer (1966-96) with postings in Egypt, Tunisia and several West African Muslim countries in addition to Washington, DC. He is the founder of a non-profit association, the non-sectarian Jewish Covenant Alliance, R.A. that struggles against the totalitarian ideologies of regime evil in the world with website at www.covenantalliance.org.

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