US President Donald Trump punctuated his remarks in the Middle East last week with an abundance of dreamy references to “hope,” love,” “faith” and God’s blessings of peace.
But candidate Trump promised steely-eyed realism.
And now that Trump is president, good statesmanship requires recognizing the limits of what is possible.
Among other things this means recognition of the fact that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not the center of gravity in the region, nor is it ripe for messianic solution. This means confronting the deep-seated differences between the parties over identity and justice, not simplistically approaching the conflict as a real-estate deal.
With Trump nevertheless determined to launch Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, apparently within a month, it falls to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to guide Trump toward sane and safe shores.
Clear-thinking American leadership, properly coordinated with Israel, may be able to create an environment that leads to improved day-to-day coexistence in Judea and Samaria, and to better prospects for eventual conflict resolution.
In fact, the very resumption of direct negotiations without preconditions and without pre-imposed terms of reference will be an enormous victory for Israel, a great achievement for Trump and a significant contribution to the long-term diplomatic environment.
After all, the Palestinians have refused to come to the negotiating table for almost a decade without being bribed into talks (preconditioning their participation on terrorist releases and settlement freezes), and without being promised end-of-conflict terms that suited them. Essentially, that’s what president Barack Obama did by insisting that the Palestinian Authority be turned into a full-fledged Palestinian state and by specifying the 1967 lines as a future Palestinian state border.
And even when Obama up-front adopted the Palestinian narrative, PA President Mahmoud Abbas fled the talks when they got serious. So, if Trump can wedge Abbas into real talks ex nihilo and keep him in conversation with Israel – that will constitute real progress.
To drive things in the right direction, Netanyahu must convey to Washington a new, different and broad agenda for the talks.
It’s not enough for Netanyahu to declare that the peace Israel seeks with the Palestinians is “a genuine, durable one, in which the Jewish state is recognized, security remains in Israel’s hands, and the conflict ends once and for all.” It’s insufficient to assert that “the Temple Mount and Western Wall will forever remain under Israeli sovereignty.”
Israel should be tabling creative coexistence proposals, pushing core issues to the top of the agenda, suggesting innovative alternatives to the problematic two-state paradigm and articulating redlines that are clear and broad.
This can move the negotiations from a welltread, hackneyed and sterile trail (which will lead to failure) to pathways of imagination (that might lead to success).
Here are a few ways to transform the negotiations: • Refugees: In peace process orthodoxy, the “refugee problem” is classified as one of the “final status” issues – problems so difficult that they can be addressed only after all the easier ones have been resolved. In fact, the Palestinian insistence on a “right of return” assures that negotiations will fail, because it amounts to Palestinian insistence on achieving what is not negotiable: Israel’s disappearance. Any peace effort should begin with the permanent resettling of many Palestinian refugees outside Israel.
• The Temple Mount: Palestinian denial of Jewish religious, historical and national rights in Israel is the essence of the conflict. One way in which to wring Palestinian recognition of the Jewish People’s ancient ties to this holy land is to insist – again, at the start of negotiations – on Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount. This can be facilitated either through a modest time-sharing arrangement (similar to that in place at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron), or through a small synagogue tucked away on the fringes of the vast Temple Mount plaza (which won’t overshadow the two large Muslim structures on the Mount).
• Diplomatic armistice: Israel has no reason to negotiate with, or consider making concessions to the Palestinians as long as the PA is waging diplomatic warfare against Israel at the International Criminal Court and UN institutions. A complete armistice in this regard must be declared by the PA.
• Violence: Up front, Israel should declare that any purposeful deterioration of the security situation in the West Bank allowed or abetted by Abbas will be met with a crushing Israeli military response. This will, among other things, destroy all the fine infrastructure projects and governance institutions built at great expense in recent years in the PA by Western donor governments and NGOs. Similarly, Hamas should know that Israel plans to once again destroy its ongoing re-armament and tunnel excavation program, mercilessly.
• Victimhood: The false Palestinian narrative of one-sided victimhood is a major hindrance to all peace efforts. For peace to emerge, the Palestinians need to be prodded out of self-pity and weaned off rituals of bashing Israel. Israel and America must demand that the PA cut Jew-hatred and the glorification of violence from its schoolbooks and state-controlled media. Trump should sign the Taylor Force Act, in order to press the PA into ending its financial support to terrorists and their families.
• Regional solutions: A two-state solution is a possible, but not a definite (and increasingly, an unlikely) outcome of negotiations between the parties. Therefore, it is time to discuss possibilities for shared sovereignty in the West Bank; for a Palestinian-Jordanian federation; for three- or four-way land swaps involving Egypt and Jordan; or for a combination of all these approaches.
• Security: The radical Islamic winter buffeting this region, and its inroads into the Palestinian national movement, means that the security envelope encompassing Israeli and Palestinian areas must be controlled by the IDF, fully and forever. This includes the Jordan Valley and the mountain ridges on both sides of Judea and Samaria. Otherwise, Israeli redeployment undoubtedly would lead to establishment of a second “Hamastan” in the West Bank (or worse, an Iranian puppet regime) – not to a stable and peaceful reality. This has become Israel’s ultimate bottom line, and there is no point in being coy about it.
All of the above would discourage the Palestinian strategy of delegitimization of Israel, give Israel the upper hand in negotiations, improve the moral tone of American foreign policy and set diplomacy on a path of realism.www.davidmweinberg.com