Israeli peace camp must act soon to leverage White House change
US President Donald Trump speaks as Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, United Arab Emirates (UAE) Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed and Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani listen before the signing of the Abraham Accords. South Lawn of the White House in Washington, US, Septem
(photo credit: REUTERS/TOM BRENNER)
we must persuade our Palestinian partners to leave behind the victimized and withdrawn outlook they have had in the wake of the steps taken against them by Trump.
The results of the presidential elections in the US are not yet decided and might not be decided for some time, due to President Trump’s attempts to challenge the count of mail-in ballots that were not counted by Election Day, November 3.
A possible change, if it does occur, will present an opportunity that the Israeli peace camp cannot miss. We must prepare for it and not wait until conclusive results are announced, and definitely before the entrance of a new president to the White House on January 20.
There is a lot of work to be done before then. This is in order to prepare for the entry of the new administration in aspects related to the promotion of peace, and in order to prevent harmful actions by the Trump administration in the period between the decision on the elections and the transition of power. This period, in which the incumbent president is lame duck, allows him room to maneuver. The outgoing president could take one last move without having anything to lose, and in the case of Trump and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it could be dangerous.
First, we must persuade our Palestinian partners to take advantage of a possible change to leave behind the victimized and withdrawn outlook they have had in the wake of the steps taken against them by Trump. Remember, the Trump administration stopped funding USAID projects in the Palestinian Authority, stopped funding for UNRWA, closed the Palestinian Authority’s mission in Washington, and announced – in parallel with the relocation of the embassy to Jerusalem – that the future of Jerusalem was removed from the negotiating table.
Finally, the threats of annexation as part of the Trump plan were the straw that broke the camel’s back. Palestinian “annoyance” is completely understandable, but it prevents them from operating effectively in the international arena, and it harms the Palestinian population, due to the cessation of civilian and security coordination with Israel.
This approach prevents them from influencing the pragmatic Sunni Arab states to advance Palestinian interests. The choice of Turkey as a mediator in the reconciliation talks between Hamas and the PA is detrimental and pushes Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates to an even more critical stance toward the Palestinians. A Democratic victory can give the Palestinians a “ladder” with which to get out of the bunker.
It is important that they work with the UAE and Bahrain to create levers to advance Palestinian interests, which are made possible precisely in the wake of the Abraham Accords. It is also time for Palestinian dialogue with the Saudis in order to leverage the Arab initiative vis-à-vis a new American administration, and against Iran and Turkey’s attempts to influence the Palestinian issue at the expense of the Arabs.
The Israeli peace camp must work with its European partners to take advantage of possible change in the United States in a way that helps the common interest of advancing a two-state solution and ending the occupation.
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu and President Trump have increased the division between European Union countries on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. At present, the EU cannot decide to act via consensus, as required by the European Constitution, due to the stances of countries in Central and Eastern Europe. Therefore, action must be taken with Germany and France, and possibly also with Britain and Norway, outside of the EU. That would create a bloc of European countries with similar thinking on the Palestinian issue that could work with a possible Biden administration from day one, to strengthen the Palestinian Authority and to promote a new American initiative.
In the United States, we need to work with the liberal elements, who are the majority in the Jewish community, and with the Democratic Party, to encourage Biden to take an assertive initiative to resolve the conflict, and give him backing if he does. It is clear that a Biden administration will have many challenges at home: overcoming the pandemic, rebuilding the economy, and dealing with China and Russia, but we must ensure that we have partners in raising the Palestinian issue to the agenda.
A bipartisan consensus must also be created, which will include moderate elements in the Republican Party, around the elements in the Trump plan that are worth promoting and that actually won the support of the Right, when the Trump plan was adopted: a two-state solution, a Palestinian capital in east Jerusalem (even if the Trump plan discusses marginal neighborhoods), connection between Gaza and the West Bank, and exchange of territories as part of the agreement.
It is important to work with those close to Biden to make it clear that there is no need to reinvent the wheel. There are enough existing plans (Geneva Accords, Gen. Allen’s security plan). What is needed is political determination and smart conduct in front of the Israeli public in a way that allows us to “embrace and push” at the same time to achieve a meaningful result.
International action to create such a pro-peace coalition will also affect Israeli politics. The Israeli public will be affected by the insight that there is no longer American backing for every whim of the Israeli Right or Evangelical Christian Right in the US, and that our new friendships in the Gulf – as well as the old ones in Europe and in the Democratic Party in the US – are preparing to advance the two-state solution.
The positive signs from the US of a Democratic win must also bring us new energy. We must not be paralyzed by the trauma from 2016, and we must not wait until the new administration is established. We must act now, and the sooner the better.
The writer is a former diplomat and foreign policy adviser to president Shimon Peres, a current senior adviser for international affairs at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, and a member of the board of the Mitvim regional foreign policy think tank and the steering committee of the Geneva Initiative. He served at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, DC, and as consul general to New England.