Getting to yes

If Kushner and Greenblatt are serious about getting the parties to yes they need to create the political space for the leadership to take risks.

Abbas and Kushner (photo credit: REUTERS)
Abbas and Kushner
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Many in the pundit world scoffed at senior Trump adviser Jared Kushner’s brief trip to the region to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Thinking that the administration is on a fool’s errand they have mocked it for its perceived naivety in wading into a perilous conflict.
They ridicule the lack of plan or progress and roll their eyes at the official readouts of meetings with the leaders.
It’s important to remember that the president does not need to spend time or political capital doing this. President Donald Trump can make a difference in the lives of millions scarred by decades of conflict. It serves no one to mock him or his team in their efforts. Looking at the outcomes of the latest trip, Mr. Kushner and US Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt did not leave empty-handed. In each official account there exists the same operative statement:
“The United States officials and [Israeli/Palestinian] Leadership underscored that forging peace will take time and stressed the importance of doing everything possible to create an environment conducive to peacemaking.”
Both parties agreed publicly to do everything possible to create an environment conducive to peacemaking. Since the collapse of the previous rounds of talks, the effort of both leaderships has been to find reasons why the other is undermining the environment for peace building rather then trying to build such an environment themselves.
The Palestinians point to the creation of a new settlement deep in the West Bank and the continued growth of existing settlements. The Israelis point to the new dedication of a square in Jenin to “martyrs” who killed Israeli civilians, and to the continuation of the incentives offered to those who attack Israelis through the PA “martyrs’ fund.”
Each claims to be held hostage by their respective political realities and the Americans get lost in the minute details, trying to find wins among the ongoing wreckage.
Rather then going down the rabbit hole of previous efforts, the Trump administration should utilize the love for the president in Israel, and the curiosity about him in Palestine, to find positive ways to lessen the incredulity of the average Israeli and Palestinian with regard to the peace process itself. People simply don’t believe it’s possible, so there is no pressure on their leaderships to step outside of their comfort zone.
Belief is created through a change of facts on the ground and by shifting attitudes. The fault line in the land-for-peace formula is that each side gives the other what it doesn’t want. While Israel’s leaders have spoken about their desire for peace, no land has been transferred from Israeli to Palestinian control in the West Bank since before 2000. While the Palestinian security cooperation has lessened violence, a culture of peace has not followed in the way that many Israelis believe necessary for a true peace to come.
The US administration managed to get the Israeli cabinet to agree to some transfers of Area C to PA control, and should continue focusing on getting real wins for those on the ground who believe land for peace is just a mirage. Simultaneously, a process needs to start that goes further then just a trilateral committee against incitement, where each side goes to the referee if they believe they have been maligned. A culture of peace is something that both sides want, and know is essential if they are not to bequeath this conflict to their grandchildren.
In other successfully resolved conflicts success can be seen not just through the reduction of violence, but from how optimistic the younger generation are about their attitudes to the other. Despite the stereotypes of the Oslo years, there was never a serious attempt on the civic side of the peace building equation, for each people to get to know the other and build a different reality together. As the populations got younger, they have become more distant and more distrustful of each other.
If Kushner and Greenblatt are serious about getting the parties to yes they need to create the political space for the leadership to take risks. Creating positive facts on the ground while draining the swamp of hate should be the twin pillars of their strategy.
The author is the executive director of the Alliance for Middle East Peace. He writes here in a personal capacity.