Less Is More

Forward Magazine - - News -

Trump’s peace push could spark a new in­tifada, warns Yossi Alpher.

Judg­ing from Pres­i­dent Trump’s first months in of­fice and from his re­cent Mid­dle East trip, he is de­ter­mined to bring about some sort of Is­raeli-Pales­tinian agree­ment. He be­lieves that it is pos­si­ble, but he has not yet fig­ured out how. His aides are ru­mored to be work­ing on a pro­posed U.S. “agenda.”

His as­pi­ra­tion de­serves praise. But it is also dan­ger­ous. Ex­pe­ri­ence teaches us that a failed at­tempt at peace can be worse than no at­tempt. It can pre­cip­i­tate vi­o­lence. The abortive Camp David sum­mit of July 2000 cat­alyzed the bloody se­cond Pales­tinian in­tifada of sui­cide bomb­ings two months later. Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry’s un­suc­cess­ful nine-month peace ef­fort in 2013 and 2014 con­trib­uted to the sub­se­quent out­break of the sum­mer 2014 Gaza war.

Ac­cord­ingly, it is of some con­cern that in Riyadh and Jerusalem, Trump pro­moted a num­ber of dead-ends from the an­nals of Is­raeli-Pales­tinian peace­mak­ing. He and his peace team should be fore­warned to avoid them.

One of those dead-ends is “eco­nomic peace.” Mea­sures to en­hance Pales­tinian liv­ing stan­dards are al­ways to be wel­comed. At Trump’s re­quest, Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu has al­ready in­voked a re­lax­ation of lim­its on Pales­tinian home con­struc­tion in Area C, the 60% of the West Bank that

Is­rael fully con­trols. But such ini­tia­tives don’t in­crease the chances for peace. On the con­trary, two in­tifadas broke out at times of rel­a­tive Pales­tinian pros­per­ity, in 1987 and 2000. So did the 1936 Pales­tinian re­volt against the Bri­tish Man­date. The United King­dom’s Peel Com­mis­sion Re­port of 1937, com­mis­sioned to ex­plain the roots of the re­volt, an­a­lyzes this flaw in the orig­i­nal Bri­tish ap­proach. The Bri­tish as­sumed that cap­i­tal in­vest­ment by Jews flee­ing Hitler for Pales­tine would, by stim­u­lat­ing the manda­tory econ­omy and pro­vid­ing jobs to Arabs, en­hance co­ex­is­tence. In­stead it just spurred Pales­tinian re­sent­ment. The re­port should be re­quired read­ing for prospec­tive eco­nomic peace­mak­ers.

Another dead-end is peace through re­li­gious di­a­logue. Re­li­gious fun­da­men­tal­ism — Mus­lim, Jewish, even Evan­gel­i­cal — is mak­ing this con­flict worse, not bet­ter. We need to get God out of the con­flict.

Then there is the very dan­ger­ous res­ur­rec­tion by Trump, Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son and oth­ers of the spu­ri­ous no­tion that solv­ing the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict will con­sti­tute a ma­jor con­tri­bu­tion to solv­ing other con­flicts and prob­lems in the Mid­dle East. Noth­ing could be fur­ther from the truth.

Look at the Arab rev­o­lu­tions that have sowed an­ar­chy and de­struc­tion in at least six Arab coun­tries since 2011 — the so-called “Arab Spring.” No­body blames Is­rael for the blood­baths of Syria, Libya and Ye­men. Is­rael’s peace agree­ments with Egypt and Jor­dan did not pre­vent them. Nor will Is­raeli-Pales­tinian peace change this ugly re­al­ity. Arabs cause their prob­lems, and Arabs must solve them.

Trump and his en­voy Jason Green­blatt seem in­tent on get­ting Ne­tanyahu and Pales­tinian leader Mah­moud Ab­bas to sit down and restart ne­go­ti­a­tions as soon as pos­si­ble. Does this make sense? It’s cer­tainly not a new idea: “Just get to the damn table,” then-Sec­re­tary of De­fense Leon Panetta urged the par­ties in De­cem­ber 2011.

But in the ab­sence of strong lead­ers ded­i­cated to dis­cussing a re­al­is­tic agenda, it’s a bad idea. Nei­ther Ab­bas nor Ne­tanyahu com­mands a will­ing po­lit­i­cal coali­tion. Nei­ther is pre­pared to make the nec­es­sary con­ces­sions. Sit­ting them down now with­out a rad­i­cally new ap­proach guar­an­tees they will both walk away frus­trated, pos­si­bly with vi­o­lent con­se­quences.

This brings us full cir­cle to the agenda Trump and Green­blatt in­tend to place on the ne­go­ti­at­ing table. If all they have to of­fer is the Oslo menu of fi­nal-sta­tus is­sues and the well­worn ne­go­ti­at­ing rule that “noth­ing is agreed un­til ev­ery­thing is agreed,” then all par­ties are bet­ter off with the sta­tus quo. More of Oslo will just make mat­ters worse. Sadly, Oslo’s re­peated fail­ures have not been an­a­lyzed ad­e­quately. The lessons of those fail­ures have not been drawn.

Trump needs a dra­matic new ap­proach, one that re­vises the Oslo for­mula and is fully in tune with his tem­per­a­ment and his per­sonal in­cli­na­tions: a real es­tate ap­proach.

Yossi Alpher served in the Mos­sad, di­rected Tel Aviv Uni­ver­sity’s Jaf­fee Cen­ter for Strate­gic Stud­ies and was a spe­cial ad­viser to Prime Min­is­ter Ehud Barak dur­ing the 2000 Camp David talks.


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