“I would love to be able to be the one that made peace with Israel and the Palestinians... that would be such a great achievement. Because nobody’s been able to do it.”
“As a deal maker, I’d like to do... the deal that can’t be made.”
President-elect Donald Trump Before embarking on “mission impossible,” if Donald Trump wants to succeed where other US presidents have failed, it is essential for him to review the record of his predecessors.
When presidents have invested their energies and prestige to solve this conflict, they have inevitably come up against the intransigent Palestinian narrative that cannot bring itself to accept the Jewish state or sign an endof- conflict resolution. So presidents have chosen their only option: pressuring for concessions the only party susceptible to American threats – Israel.
To his credit, Mr. Trump said, “I believe that my administration can play a significant role... (but it must) be negotiated between the parties themselves, and not imposed on them by others.”
Like presidents who have preceded him, he sees the conflict as the “war that never ends.” He needs to understand, however, just how patient Islamic enmity can be, that they are in no hurry to find peace. The Shi’ite and Sunni factions have been going at it for 1,400 years and have no desire to settle their differences any time soon.
Israel’s enemies don’t mind being in a state of simmering war for a long, long time. Hopefully his advisers will use the more appropriate Middle Eastern reference of time to strategize.
If Donald Trump is truly a different kind of politician, he should not follow those who have misunderstood the region, seeing Israel as the cause of instability in a region today where stability and even the desire for stability are not the norm. To Trump’s credit, he has begun to assemble a foreign policy team – with one possible exception – that sees Israel as an essential strategic ally for American security interests.
Of course everyone in the West and Israel would love a lasting resolution of conflict. Hopefully Trump and his foreign policy team will reexamine the failed formula of prioritizing territorial concessions over the true obstacle of the conflict – the inability of Arabs to accept under any circumstances a Jewish state as a neighbor.
But why are American presidents so fixated on this conflict, when there are at least 100 other worldwide hot spots with more profound security and human rights implications? Is it because presidents and their secretaries of state really think it is truly the most important conflict in the world to resolve? Or as Aaron David Miller said, we are ”the fix-it people; Americans have a hard time accepting that we can’t sort out conflicts... and the more we try and fail, the less credibility and leverage we have in the region.” He is spot on.
So, what are strategies the new administration might consider?
1. Instead of thinking about Palestinians as victims and the weaker party, hold them responsible for their failures, something no US administration has done when the Palestinians rejected at least four opportunities to have a state of their own.
2. Make it crystal clear that America will not reward the Palestinians for continuing to institutionalize antisemitism and hatred of Israelis, without preparing their citizens for peace.
3. End the Obama-era mistake of treating all Israeli building over the 1949 armistice line as illegitimate.
4. Israelis should also be asked for the time being only to build within the settlement blocks, while accepting their Supreme Court’s decisions on dismantling illegal outposts.
5. The grand quid pro quo would be to get the Sunni Arab world to accept Israel in exchange for unambiguous American support to stop Iranian ambitions of hegemony from threatening their security interests. Secretary of State Kerry was dead wrong when he told the Saban Forum: “There will be no separate peace between Israel and the Arab world... without the Palestinian process.” That is the kind of myopic thinking he used to negotiate the disastrous Iran deal.
Are there really creative alternatives available? Rabin’s National Security Adviser, General Giora Eiland, wrote a column titled, “Trump era must not be wasted on two-state solution.” Some of his out-of-the-box thinking may inspire others to find a more lasting solution.
Eiland thinks that a “regional solution with land swaps between four players – Egypt, Jordan, Israel and Palestine – or about the creation of a federation between Jordan and the West Bank,” could be options beyond the two-state solution.
Trump would be wise to keep in mind a few bits of advice:
• Khaled Abu Toemeh warns, “We must stop dreaming about the new Middle East and coexistence... There has been a total divorce between Jews and Palestinians. We don’t want to see each other.”
• Dennis Ross advises that “Most importantly, don’t launch big public initiatives before knowing they can succeed.”
• And former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon cautions, “As long as the Palestinians educate their children to hate us, to kill us, to admire the martyr – the conflict will never be resolved.”
The author is the director of MEPIN™. He regularly briefs members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset and journalists. He regularly briefs Congress on issues related to the Middle East.