Trump, Kushner deserve better from Israel – opinion

Netanyahu’s push for immediate annexation undercuts Israel’s best American allies ever and further weakens bipartisan support for Israel.

JARED KUSHNER, senior adviser to the president, listens to US President Donald Trump speak with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House last year. (photo credit: CARLOS BARRIA / REUTERS)
JARED KUSHNER, senior adviser to the president, listens to US President Donald Trump speak with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House last year.
(photo credit: CARLOS BARRIA / REUTERS)
It is widely known that US President Donald Trump’s approval ratings are higher in the state of Israel than anywhere else – including the US. He earned this appreciation by pursuing policies favorable to Israel beyond any of his predecessors. The list includes moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights and continuously challenging the one-sided condemnations of the Jewish state in the UN. Especially when Nikki Haley served as ambassador to the UN, the US constantly criticized the hypocritical demonization of Israel.
Israel’s critics and enemies have impugned these policies as being ‘Trumpian,’ e.g. arbitrary products of Trump’s personalization of foreign policy, and the fact that his designated envoy, Jared Kushner, is Jewish and pro-Israel. They say his policy prescriptions are designed to appeal to the Evangelical vote and by his friendship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his identification with the latter’s populism and war with media that parallel his own. I would argue these policies represent breaking with past American governments’ willingness to live with injustice to Israel. President Barack Obama and predecessors chose not to fight with the prevalent international consensus that tolerated Arab denial and mistreatment of Israel – whereas Trump’s attitude toward the international community is pugnacious and in-your-face. Still, these were decisions to do justice to Israel, not to give it carte blanche to do whatever it wanted to its neighbors.
Now the US has brought forward the Kushner-designed peace plan. Again, it goes beyond previous American approaches in understanding Israel’s needs and assuring its security. The American scenario supports a two-state solution for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. However, this plan takes seriously the threat to Israel that an unreconciled Palestinian state would pose. It offers concrete protections, such as a permanently demilitarized Palestine. The Palestinians are required to establish a democratic regime out of the knowledge that dictatorships are not reliable peace partners. Autocratic regimes lack consent of the government. They inevitably need to divert the anger and dissatisfaction of the population toward an external enemy. That would be Israel, because the Palestinians have not thrived economically, and the PA has squandered the highest per capita international aid by its corruption and incompetence.
The “Peace To Prosperity” plan gives Palestinians two great incentives to stop their policy of negating Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state in the midst of the Islamic Middle East as, well as denying the historic Jewish connection to the land of Israel (in order to taint Israel as colonialist). The main incentive is winning self-determination and a sovereign Palestine state. The other is an unprecedented level of international aid and a better life, democracy and prosperity. The past policy of delegitimizing Israel, hateful incitement and defending terror has yielded only frustration, oppressive self-government and suffering.
The plan is exquisitely balanced with inducements to both sides to make the needed – albeit painful – compromises for peace. The plan provides incentives to Israel to negotiate a Palestinian state, with the promise if the Palestinians do not close a deal within four years, the US will back Israel’s annexation of up to 30% of the West Bank. This clause assures there will be no need to evacuate Israeli settlements. Past evacuations tore Israeli society apart, almost to the point of civil war. Israel can also take permanent control of the Jordan Valley settlements corridor, which is Israel’s most important military defense line against an invasion from the east.
For the first time, the Palestinians are incentivized to negotiate a final settlement. Until now, Palestinian rejectionism, support of terrorism and unremitting hostility has been rewarded with increasingly more generous peace settlement offers. Now, they are given to understand that they will get their best deal now. Further delay and hostility means they will get less land and less scope for autonomy. If they negotiate now, they may well have to give up less land than 30% and will get significant land in exchange.
However, Netanyahu proposes to annex (extend Israeli sovereignty is his preferred language) 30% of the West Bank now while promising his right-wing base he will not negotiate for a Palestinian state. This turns the Trump/Kushner proposal from a serious, difficult but necessary initiative that can bring peace after a century of conflict, into a set of one-sided favors to Israel. This proposal reinforces the Netanyahu narrative that his unique connection to Trump has brought Israel benefits without obligations or limits. But this step arouses the opposition of most of the world, including most American Jews. It also squanders the most serious, responsible diplomatic initiative that could bring peace with security for Israel and dignity for the Palestinians. Netanyahu gives color to the enemies of Israel’s counter-narrative that Trump is a loose cannon, who plays personal-favorites president. This impugns his support for Israel, and increases the possibility successors will repeal his pro-Israel decisions.
Trump and Kushner deserve better from Israel. This remarkable “Deal of the Century” should not be trivialized and exploited to realize the dreams of a right-wing minority. Even if Trump and Kushner give permission to annex now (out of respect for Israel’s right to decide its own fate by itself), the government of Israel should rather follow Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz’s direction. He seeks to negotiate in cooperation with Jordan and the sympathetic Sunni states. Achieving an internationally supported agreement would assure the permanence of any land exchange, as well an unchallenged legitimacy for Israel. Gantz is prepared to deal with a possible Palestinian state on the basis of solid security conditions that assure Israel keeps its own fate in its hands.
Netanyahu’s push for immediate annexation undercuts Israel’s best American allies ever and further weakens bipartisan support for Israel. This policy will damage his accomplishment in improving international standing for Israel and bringing Sunni states closer to the Jewish state. The American government, Blue and White and all friends of Israel should save Netanyahu from his own worst instincts.
The writer was a leading thinker,communal activist and Modern Orthodox Rabbi in American Jewry.  A recent oleh, he serves as President of the J.J. Greenberg institute for the Advancement of Jewish Life, a division of the Hadar Institute of New York and Jerusalem.