Encountering Peace: No deal of the century!

What Trump has actually done is completely removing the negotiating table.

December 26, 2018 21:42
U.S. President Donald Trump participates in a meeting with cabinet members

U.S. President Donald Trump participates in a meeting with cabinet members, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., July 18, 2018. (photo credit: REUTERS/LEAH MILLIS)


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A few weeks after US President Donald Trump was elected, I was requested to submit to the transition team a very brief (because he doesn’t read) policy brief on what I thought the president-elect should do regarding the Israeli-Palestinian (dormant) peace process. I sent off my paper and understood very quickly that the president-elect would not heed my advice. For the past two years, Trump has been speaking about his intention to put down on the table his proposal “for the deal of the century”. He has engaged in a policy of (negative) intervention, punishing and alienating the Palestinians while backing Israel on every (wrong) move Israel has made. The president moved the US Embassy to Jerusalem, against the advice of every senior adviser and every US ally, and then claimed that he removed Jerusalem from the table. He tried to decriminalize continued settlement expansion and building. He ceased US support for UNRWA and threatened that he was in the process of removing the refugee issue from the table. He canceled US financial support for development projects in the West Bank and Gaza including school building, paving roads, laying water and sewage pipes and on top of that, canceled US support for joint Israeli-Palestinian cooperative peace building projects.

What Trump has actually done is completely removing the negotiating table. Today, there is no credible peace process and will not be as long as he and the world continue to see the role of US president as the primary arbiter of peace.

Now Trump has announced the US exit from Syria and leaving the arena to Russia and to Iran. It is unlikely that he will present his ultimate Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, and if he does, it is very unlikely that anyone, at least on the Palestinian side, will take it seriously. The Russians too, it seems, will not replace the US as the primary interlocutor between Israel and the Palestinians, even after they repeated their invitation to Moscow to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Neither the EU nor will the UN step up to do the job. Suddenly, my initial policy brief that I wrote for the transition team may be relevant. This is what I wrote then:

“IN MY MIND, the Trump victory does not change the bottom line of what I think US policy should be on the Israel-Palestine question. President Barack Obama was the most likely US president to take a firm stand on moving the two-state solution forward, and he did not. There has never really been a possibility for a Pax-Americana – neither Israel nor Palestine would or should accept an imposed solution to the conflict.

The only real solution to the conflict, assuming that I correctly understand what the conflict is about – territory and identity (each side’s demonstrated preparedness to fight, kill and die for a territorial expression of their identity) was and remains two states for two peoples. Israel’s ability to continue to define itself as a democratic nation-state of the Jewish people is more than ever dependent on ending the occupation and seeing an independent, hopefully democratic and peaceful Palestine next to Israel. The Palestinians’ ability to achieve for themselves a piece of land they can call their own is dependent on reaching a peace agreement with Israel in which, in exchange for genuine recognition of Israel, Palestine receives liberation. Any agreement will be dependent on Israel and Palestine assuming full responsibility for security of both states. All of the issues have to be resolved for there to be a genuine agreement.

The only path toward reaching an agreement is through direct negotiations. No one will do it for Israel and Palestine except the Israelis and the Palestinians. No Security Council resolution or another Trump speech will bring about an Israeli-Palestinian agreement if the Israelis and Palestinians don’t negotiate it together. It would be beneficial for both sides to expand the circle and invite Egypt and Jordan to the table, but the core remains Israel and Palestine.

My best advice to the American president is STAY AWAY! Don’t raise hopes of a new American initiative. Don’t offer to help to resolve the conflict. Offer support for any agreement that the two sides reach. Offer significant help – even more than was offered in the past – but the price tag is reaching an agreement. I would not propose cutting US aid to Israel (not only because it would not happen in a Trump administration anyway) because Israel needs to feel secure to make real concessions. I would not propose cutting financial support to the Palestinians, because they also need to feel secure and the Palestinian people have to see the fruits of peace. I would put more financial support into helping the Palestinian private sector because that is where stability and interests for peace will come from. Please don’t encourage unilateral actions of either side that could make the process of reaching agreements more difficult – that means on settlement building and on Jerusalem-related issues.

Let Israel and Palestine know that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not on the agenda of the new US administration – that is the best thing that President-elect Trump could do for Israel and Palestine. Focus on bringing an end to the war and suffering in Syria. Strengthen Egypt and Jordan. Continue to assist the Palestinians, mainly the private sector to build a more secure Palestinian economy. Take a strong stand on radical Islamic terrorism, against al-Qaeda and against ISIS. Help to create a more secure Middle East and a more secure world.

But let the Israelis and Palestinians know that they together must resolve their conflict.”

No one in the White House listened then, and even if they did listen, they have probably resigned by now. Trump will probably not read this, because he doesn’t read. But maybe some of your readers out there, such as the US Ambassador to Israel, does read (or someone on his staff) and maybe one of those people will agree and try to influence US policy. Doubtful, but maybe?

The author is a political and social entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to the State of Israel and to peace between Israel and her neighbors. His latest book, In Pursuit of Peace in Israel and Palestine, was published by Vanderbilt University Press.

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