Keeping hope when progress seems a distant dream

For many reasons, the stalled peace process between Israel and the Palestinians is showing no signs of resurrection, with each side blaming the other.

 For many reasons, the stalled peace process between Israel and the Palestinians is showing no signs of resurrection, with each side blaming the other.

In the absence of any gesture or concession seen as such by either side, short-term prospects for progress are slim. In all likelihood, it will take a sustained, multi-layered effort by the United States, not to mention some arm-twisting, to get the sides to come to the negotiation table prepared in fact to negotiate. And other parties, not directly involved, will also need to play helpful roles, such as the E.U., the U.N., Gulf countries, etc. However, while Israeli leaders certainly feel close to the present U.S. administration, the Palestinian president recently indicated that what he considers America's one-sided support of Israel precludes a U.S. role as honest broker.

Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban once famously said that "the Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity." That saying may very well apply to the Palestinian leadership. Its automatic rejection of any American peace plan before it is even presented is the latest example of short-term anger (over President Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital) trumping long-term considerations of what would best serve Palestinians' goal of statehood.

The short-sightedness of the Palestinian leadership blinds itself to the fact that there are new conditions, in the American administration as well as in the Middle East, which may present it with the best prospect it has faced in a long time.

First and foremost, the U.S. administration, by virtue of its affinity with the Israeli government, is better situated to eventually convince Israel to make necessary concessions to the Palestinians. Recall the president's tweet that in exchange for his Jerusalem declaration, "Israel would have to pay more" in future negotiations.

The Trump administration began its first year with fulsome messages of friendship towards Israel, including a presidential visit in the first year in office and the recognition of Jerusalem as our capital. In this situation, it will likely be harder for the Israeli government to not heed future requests to make concessions as the act of a one-sided administration that does not take into account Israel's needs and positions. In fact, some Israelis are actually worried that the president's gestures may entail future requests which Israel will find hard to reject.

The Palestinians also seem to disregard the fact that there is no other viable mediator willing or, indeed, able to tackle the century-old conflict whose solution had eluded so many in the past. For all its desire to obtain a more significant footprint in our region (especially in Syria), Russia will not be a mediator between us and the Palestinians. The European Union, while ostensibly more balanced than Russia, similarly cannot play a pivotal role. For both the Palestinians and Israelis, there simply is no other mediator around, and without one-there will be no peace negotiations, not to mention a permanent agreement. 

And yet, the Palestinian president is looking for a solution where it is easiest for him to receive support--at the United Nations, at the Arab League, and at the European Union, but not where the solution actually lies-in Washington, D.C.  While U.N. resolutions and a European recognition can certainly make the Palestinians feel good, independence will not be gained by resolutions, but by direct negotiations with Israel-with the necessary help of the United States.

Once the U.S. does present a peace plan, presently being crafted by Jared Kushner and Special Envoy Jason Greenblatt, the Palestinian leadership will need to make a decision: Will it maintain its negative attitude, which so far has led it nowhere, or will it give the plan a chance of success?

One thing is clear: Any peace plan will necessarily have to be part of a comprehensive U.S. strategy on the Middle East, including references to other flash points which merit U.S. policy attention-like   Iran's nuclear aspirations and hegemonic plans in the region as well as the future of the Syrian civil war. A peace plan that addresses Israeli-Palestinian issues will also have to address the question of Hamas rule in Gaza and its enduring conflict with the Palestinian Authority. While Israel may pursue a two-state solution, we will clearly not be negotiating with two separate Palestinian entities, one of which is sworn to Israel's destruction.

In the short term, there may not be a Palestinian partner ready or able to discuss a permanent solution to our conflict. Palestinian rejection of America's role will lead us nowhere. But in the long term, it may be time for a decisive American role leveraging a U.S. recognition of Israel's security needs, and a unique position to help Israel take difficult steps on the way to reconciliation.

It will take realism and courage for the Palestinians to recognize this fact. That recognition is in Israel's interest, but first and foremost, their own.

Ofer Bavly is the director general of the JUF Israel Office.

"The short-sightedness of the Palestinian leadership blinds itself to the fact that there are new conditions, in the American administration as well as in the Middle East, which may present it with the best prospect it has faced in a long time. "



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