Tag Archives: Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Will Trump be Seduced by ‘Ultimate Deal,’ the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict?

(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post)

Trump would be wise to keep in mind a few bits of advice.

“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.

 

Is Path Forward a Revised Arab Peace Initiative?

(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post)

In 2002 Saudi Arabia proposed the Arab Peace Initiative (API), which seemed at first to promise an end to the Arab world’s rejection of Israel, and a path to resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Initially it appeared that full normalization of relations between Israel and the Arab world was being offered.

Unfortunately, “full normalization” evolved into “normal relations,” which then became almost meaningless as Adil al-Jubayr, the Saudi ambassador to the US, then said normalization would happen only after the achievement of peace.

This allowed the Palestinian leadership to hold a veto over any initiative and the chance of advancing Israeli-Sunni Arab relations.

What started as a dramatic possibility turned into a take-it-or-leave-it offer. It insisted Israel return to the indefensible 1949 armistice line, i.e. 1967 line, while guaranteeing an unlimited right of return for descendants of Arab refuges, i.e. the demographic destruction of Israel.

But times change, and there may be a real opportunity now.

Over the past 16 years Israel has participated in five wars, while the Arab Winter of 2011 upended the legitimacy of the arbitrarily chosen Sykes-Picot borders.

American interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan were replaced by retreat, and Islamists of all stripes filled the resulting power vacuums. Meanwhile, the ill-conceived JCPOA (Iran deal) has given the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism the green light for a nuclear bomb with full international approval in 10-15 years, and access to billions for its war chest. Meanwhile, Palestinians are so disgusted with the Palestinian Authority’s pervasive corruption that Hamas has seemed to many a better choice.

Which brings us to a golden window of opportunity that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.

The Obama administration’s gift to the Iranians is a dark cloud with the following silver lining: Shi’ite Iran’s threats are directed not just at America and Israel, but also at Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab states that are in Iran’s path of aggression.

Israel and the Saudi monarchy have been unofficially cooperating on a number of security issues for the past few years. There have been a few public handshakes – previously unthinkable – between present and former Israeli and Saudi leaders (Saudi prince Turki al-Faisal).

As Lesley Terris of IDC Herzliya wrote in The Jerusalem Post earlier this year, The API “deserves serious consideration because a process based on a document endorsed and supported by Saudi Arabia, Egypt and… the Arab League would enjoy legitimacy in large parts of the Muslim and Arab world.”

So the magic question is, can the 2002/2007 API be tweaked to create a document that will allow all parties to save face, and bring the relationship into the public and diplomatic sphere? A simple document can state up-front that all issues are not going to be resolved immediately, but that it is the basis for an immediate process of normalization of relations between the parties so that they can work together.

Here are some ideas.

  1. Negotiations will be based on UN resolutions 242 and 181. This would allow both sides to move forward without imposing the indefensible Green Line as the final offer on borders.
  1. An Israeli gesture allowing 5,000 Arab refugees from 1948 immediate entrance into Israel, or compensation.

This symbolic gesture would acknowledge the hardships of Palestinians, while at the same time make clear that the deal-breaking UNWRA definition of refugees as descendants of refugees, unique to Palestinian refugees, cannot be on the table.

  1. Normal diplomatic and commercial relations, with embassies opened in the second phase of negotiations. America can sweeten the pot with preferred trade agreements for Arab states that sign onto the revised API.
  1. The issue of the Golan Heights and Jerusalem will be deferred due to regional realities.

A simple document could transform the region.

Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will be coming to visit members of the Senate and House Foreign Relations Council. He has already shown great foresight in his vision to restructure the future Saudi Arabian economy away from its reliance on oil revenue. He and his security establishment know that if anyone is going to oust the Saudi regime and lay waste to or nuke their country, it’s Iran waving a Shi’ite banner, not Israel or the US.

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog recently revealed that he and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have had many recent discussions over the API, and no doubt could join a unity government if this moves forward.

Unfortunately the myopic Obama administration foreign policy team believes any new initiatives are deliberate plans to sabotage the president’s foreign policy legacy.

It is time for the American Congress to come to the rescue, to take a leading role in forging foreign policy initiatives.

For far to long the legislative branch of the American government has avoided its constitutional responsibilities on foreign policy, allowing presidents of both parties too much executive overreach in foreign affairs.

We should call on respective chairmen of the Senate and House foreign relations committees, Senator Bob Corker and Congressman Ed Royce, and ranking members Senator Ben Cardin and Congressman Eliot Engel, to take up the mantle of forging regional Middle East stability, while promoting American national security interests.

The author is the director of MEPIN™.

He regularly briefs members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset and journalists on issues related to the Middle East.

The West’s Wrongheaded Analysis Perpetuates the Conflict

(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post)

Since its creation Israel has been the convenient scapegoat to blame for all the problems of the Middle East.

Dennis Ross, in “Misreading the Middle East, Again” (US News and World Report), says that the premise – widely accepted by US foreign policy makers – that resolving the Israeli- Palestinian conflict would transform the region is “fundamentally flawed.”

He is correct.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has little to do with the 1,400-year-old Sunni- Shi’ite war, the Yemeni civil war, Iranian hegemony, the rise of Islamic State, Syrian Alawite genocide, Lebanese denominational dysfunction, Egyptian and Turkish fundamentalism, Libyan chaos, Iraqi alignment with Iran, Saudi Wahhabism, the abandonment of the Kurds, or the Islamization of Europe.

Since its creation Israel has been the convenient scapegoat to blame for all the problems of the Middle East. Generations of American foreign policy experts have misunderstood that Israel is an excuse, not a root cause of Muslim factions’ hostility toward one another and the West.

Yet as astute as Ross is in his assessment that Israel is not the primary cause of Middle East instability, he and many foreign experts are still locked into an outdated “territorial toolbox” to resolve the Middle East dysfunctionality. This wrongheaded policy prescription perpetuates conflicts throughout the region, including the Israeli-Palestinian one.

This is in part because most foreign policy experts still recommend recreating the artificially created nation-states of the Sykes-Picot lines of 1916. Just as those borders may be more of an impediment than a guideline for creating a more manageable region, the 1949 armistice lines between Israel and the Arab armies, ending Israel’s War of Independence, need to be seen for what they originally were, cease-fire lines between exhausted armies. American foreign policy experts need to stop viewing the artificially created borders as the exact foundation of regional stability.

In his book Doomed to Succeed: The US-Israel Relationship from Truman to Obama, Ross says he convinced President Barack Obama that only borders and security should be discussed between the Israelis and Palestinians. He reasoned that the issue of the right of return for Palestinian refugees is an “animating myth of the Palestinian national movement” and will never be conceded by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will never accept dividing Jerusalem, considering Israeli political realities.

Ross believes if enough territory could be conceded to the Palestinians, Israel could be convinced that the US could guarantee Israeli security. Ross wrote, “We [Ross and George Mitchell] were in agreement that we needed to lean toward the Palestinians on territory and toward the Israelis on security.”

Unfortunately, this is based on a false political narrative that the armistice lines are an international border, and that the Palestinian Arabs’ desires end at the Green Line.

Since 2010 Middle Eastern jihad enthusiasts have been led by America’s actions to believe its redlines drawn in the Middle Eastern sands can be successfully defied. Therefore Israel, and the US as well, can’t depend on the deterrence value of American commitments to keep a Palestinian state from attacking a more vulnerable, 14.5-km.- wide Israel, plunging everyone, likely including the US, into war.

Strategic depth matters, especially when greater Tel Aviv will be almost as close to the West Bank as Sderot is to Gaza City! We know how well the absence of strategic depth worked out in the disengagement of 2005. Territorial depth has taken on even more importance in the age of Islamic State and non-state actors, and yes – territorial depth still matters in the age of missiles.

Remember, there are just 15 seconds to get to a bomb shelter in Sderot, which is a practical impossibility for people on the 15th floor of a Tel Aviv high-rise.

But the issues of territory, settlements, refugees and Jerusalem leave the impression that if you could just concoct the right diplomatic formula, a resolution of the conflict could be conjured up.

This makes little sense unless you are prepared to deal with the elephant in the room, the overwhelming Palestinian belief that Jews have no rights to any land, that the Jewish narrative is illegitimate.

Last year I recommended that if you really want to make progress and know whether the Palestinians will respect any agreement they sign, you must require each party to accept the narrative of the other. In the Palestinians’ case, that would be to respect in word and deed Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state in the Levant, to acknowledge the 3,000-year-old Jewish history in Israel.

Without that, their dream of conquest would be only encouraged, even if every settlement over the Green Line were abandoned tomorrow. The American foreign policy mind-set must understand this conflict is not about the division of territory.

Even left-leaning Israelis, after being mugged by the reality of the second intifada, moved on to a more realistic assessment of the conflict and the goals of their Palestinian partner. Yet American State Department experts are stuck in an Oslo Accords time warp, refusing to acknowledge that despite the good intentions of the plan, in reality it actually hurt the chances for a peaceful resolution. After 20 years they still refuse to acknowledge the nature of the partner Israel is fated to live with; and what is worse, they refuse to learn why Oslo failed. Defending Oslo has become like a religion, where the divine word of Oslo is sacrosanct, the only legitimate path to peace.

The mantra reads:

• Ignore the intifadas; blame the settlements.

• Ignore the Israeli territorial offers; blame the settlements.

• Ignore the true meaning of Resolution 242 and what Oslo actually said; blame the settlements.

• Ignore the withdrawal from every settlement in Gaza; blame the settlements.

• Ignore the 14,000 missiles directed at civilians on the good side of the Green Line; blame the settlements.

To those stuck in the Oslo time warp, married to a wrongheaded analysis of the Middle East, withdrawal from settlements is the answer to ending the conflict and stabilizing the Middle East.

They claim that all the Palestinians want is good schools, economic opportunity and freedom. If only it were so.

The author is the director of the Middle East Political and Information Network and a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post. MEPIN is a Middle East research analysis read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset, journalists and organizational leaders. He regularly briefs members of Congress on issues related to the Middle East.

Time for a New American Understanding of the Conflict

(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post)

America must finally challenge the Muslim worldview that Judaism is not a nationality if progress is ever to be made in resolving the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.

 “The historical denial about the right of Jewish people to have their own homeland” and the Palestinian “refusal to acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state, that is a critical issue that needs to be addressed.” – Democratic California Congressman Alan Lowenthal

This week the United Nations Security Council debated the causes of the current violence in Israel.

It wasn’t much of a debate.

The ambassadors were in perfect agreement about who caused the violence, and were sure of the remedy. Facts were chosen, and context was conveniently ignored.

That evening I was asked to speak to young Jewish professionals in New York City about the current situation. During the Q&A and afterwards, one question was repeatedly asked: How do we respond to people who disproportionately blame Israel? How do we interact with people especially on the Internet who barely acknowledge the unprovoked Palestinian attacks, or show any discomfort with the blatant Jew hatred pervasive on the Internet? The UN ambassadors were unanimous in agreement that the source of the violence was the settlements, and Israel’s change in the status quo on the Temple Mount. They agreed that it is the Palestinians who need protection from Israelis. The obvious fact that if Palestinian attacks ended, the violence would cease is never mentioned. Israel’s legitimate security requirements, and its rejected offers of land for peace were ignored, as they do not fit the anti-Israel narrative of the United Nations.

As a reminder, having a standard for Israel that is not expected of any other nation is considered anti-Semitism according to the US State Department’s definition.

Further confusing the situation were the American mixed messages on the violence, which seemed absolutely schizophrenic. Inauspiciously, it began with Secretary of State John Kerry’s moral equivalence, saying, “I am not going to point fingers from afar… this is a revolving cycle,” and blaming the settlements for the violence.

He then backtracked a bit, defending Israel’s right to self-defense and attributing some blame to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for incitement.

Processing these contradictory messages for many pro-Israel advocates is difficult enough, especially when the anti-Israel crowd cherry-picks statements to put Israel in the worst possible light. The ad hominem attacks from peers on the Internet who repeat anti-Israel talking points with certainty frustrate and discourage young adults who want to defend Israel.

If you are alone with someone with a closed mind, just keep walking. But with social media, your response to a person who is prejudiced against Israel is monitored and followed by other people whose opinions may not be completely formed, or who are impressionable.

In the 21st century, the goal of pro-Israel advocates is to educate. Ignorance is a major enemy in the war of words against those who want to delegitimize Israel, and concoct rationales for violence and ostracism against Jews everywhere.

Respond and respectfully correct inaccuracies on Facebook and twitter from those who slander Israel. During times of quiet in the conflict, return to basic education to lay the groundwork to combat the next round of falsehoods that will inevitably be hurled at Israel.

Share videos and photos from social media, like the one that shows Palestinians teaching the best ways to insert a knife into a Jew.

When you are charged with stereotyping all Palestinians, share with them polls revealing that 93 percent of Palestinians hold anti-Jewish beliefs. Offer polls of Palestinians by Palestinians, like the one from the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion in June 2015 showing 81% of West Bank Palestinian Arabs say all of historic Palestine “is Palestinian land and Jews have no rights to the land.”

This conflict will not move in a positive and less violent direction until an American administration throws out the failed playbooks for resolving the conflict. The conflict will have a chance for resolution when Palestinian dreams of slaughter and expulsion of Jews are confronted and rejected, not justified by cultural relativism.

A future administration must renounce the disingenuous moral equivalence meant to placate Muslim and Arab states. This has been a failed strategy, playing into the hands of Arab dictators, who have used Israel as the scapegoat to cover up their own incompetence and corruption.

In February 2015 I wrote an article, “ Does Mahmoud Abbas want his legacy to be the third intifada?’ Six months later, we seem on the precipice of another more dangerous uprising that emanates not only from Palestinians of the West Bank, but potentially from Palestinian Arabs with Israeli citizenship.

Unless future American administrations can readjust their tired and failed diplomatic strategies, and realize that this conflict is about 1948 and Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish State, not 1967 when Israel in a defensive war pushed back its assailants from being a stone’s throw from its major population centers and conquered the West Bank, Israel and the Palestinians Arabs will continue to pay the price.

America must finally challenge the Muslim worldview that Judaism is not a nationality if progress is ever to be made in resolving the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.

The author is the director of MEPIN™ (Middle East Political and Information Network™), and a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post. MEPIN™ is a Middle East research analysis read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset, journalists and organizational leaders.

He regularly briefs members of Congress on issues related to the Middle East.