President Trump And the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

 

By Raphael Cohen-Almagor.

 

We do not know much about Trump’s views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. During his controversial presidential campaign he made a number of statements that suggest:

  • Trump is a friend of Israel.
  • Trump has strong reservations about the Muslim world as he seems to think that Islam is the source of the majority of modern terrorism. Muslim terror targets the West at large and the USA in particular. The USA under President Trump is at odds with Islam.
  • Trump voiced his ambition to succeed where so many people before him had failed. He would like to bring peace to the Middle East. He declared his wish to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
  • Trump’s team, composed by the president, does not pretend to be an unbiased broker. Most of the team is on the side of Israel. Period.

Trump is a new phenomenon in world politics. He is the first president since Dwight D. (“Ike”) Eisenhower who came to this role without prior experience in politics. Thus we learn the Trumpism phenomenon while it is in the making. It is fair to say that Trump is not an expert on Middle Eastern affairs. He is aware of some of the intricacies of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but he does not claim to be well versed in all of them. It seems that he is willing and open to learn. Being open to learning facts and details might not lead to overhauling Trump’s worldview but it might bring him to reconsider certain positions. Trump, the experienced businessman and the green politician, understands success and failure. He also knows the difference between declarations and actions. Words are cheap.  Actions can be very costly. What one says in an election campaign in order to be elected does not necessarily materialize. Since coming to the White House, Trump realizes that it might be difficult to make certain ideas a reality. Some of the issues are more difficult than he assumed. Jerusalem is one of them.

Jerusalem

Trump said he will move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. He appointed an ambassador to Israel who is supportive of this move. Then he started preparing his homework and realized that the issue is more complex than what he initially thought. If American lives will be lost as a result of the decision, Trump will be perceived irresponsible. At the very least, he needs to show that he has devoted some attention to detail, that he carefully made calculations and then had cast his decision. As an aspiring politician one can make many irresponsible declarations. As a president, one needs to be far more careful. Words of the American president carry much weight, far more weight than Trump had initially realized. Trump understands finance and money. Only now he is starting to learn that in politics finance is only one facet of the complex matrix that defines the role of the American president in today’s world.

I support the decision to move the American embassy and all other embassies to Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel. The capital is not Tel Aviv. Embassies should be in the state capital. I find the debate somewhat hypocritical. The United States, the United Kingdom and other countries have missions in charge of Palestinian affairs in East Jerusalem. They can have Embassies in charge of their relationships with Israel in West Jerusalem. This move won’t undermine the idea of two-state solution that speaks of dividing Jerusalem not only de facto but also de jure. The city is already divided. Go to Jerusalem and witness the separate Palestinian neighbourhoods. They look very different compared to the Jewish neighbourhoods.

According to the vision of two-state solution, East Jerusalem will be the capital of Palestine. West Jerusalem will be the capital of Israel. Alternatively, Jerusalem will be declared an international area, holy and respected by all religions, and jointly administered by Israel and Palestine, or by the international community at large. With good will and innovative mind, a solution can be found. The problem is that while Israel is rich with innovation, it is short with good will. Palestine also lacks good will. Mistrust undermines the process.

Three Options

In the event that the Trump administration would decide to get itself seriously involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it can push to one of three options:

  • it can accept the right-wing Israeli idealistic option that would bolster Israel at the expense of Palestine;
  • It can try to push for the optimal option of confederation;
  • It can push for the still most realistic and least violent option of a two-state solution.

The right-wing Israeli idealistic option

Netanyahu, who was, is and will remain Eretz Yisrael Hashlema person (a person who believes in preserving the whole land of Israel) but who loves power and wishes to be perceived as “pragmatic” in the international arena, would allow himself to be bolder with his true inclinations. Netanyahu is already pushed to boldness by his own governmental partners, first and foremost Naftali Bennett who does not have Netanyahu’s restraints. Bennett, unlike Netanyahu, does not pretend to be pragmatic, and says what he wants. He wants to annex the occupied territories. He does acknowledge that this is a complicated matter; thus he aims to do this step by step: first annexing the major bulks of settlements which amount to 20% of the West Bank. Then he will aim to annex Area C which amounts to more than 50% of the West Bank, leaving the Palestinians with a very small piece of land.

The optimal option: Confederations

The West Bank and Gaza are small in size and population, and they are geographically apart. In order to make Palestine a viable state, they need outside support. There are several options:

  1. With Jordan (West Bank). Jordan and the Palestinian West Bank would agree to establish a federation. The West Bank was part of Jordan until the 1967 Six Day War. The West Bank is one the other side of the Jordan River thus geographic contiguity.
  2. With Egypt (Gaza and the West Bank).
  3. With Israel, Egypt and Jordan (The New Middle East).

In terms of viability, there is no doubt that some form of confederation will better serve the Palestinian interest. However, at present this is a far-fetched proposal. Jordan, Egypt and Israel do not rush to establish such a confederation. This option can become realistic only when there is quiet, trust and good will of all concerned nations. These three ingredients, quiet, trust and good will are scarce at present. The USA can play a great role in bringing the parties together, offer attractive incentives and pave the way forward to an optimal solution.

The realistic and less bloody option: Two-State Solution 

This is the most just solution. I have been campaigning for a two-state solution since 2012, and explained the reasons why this solution is fair and just in a number of articles which the reader is welcome to read.[1] I do not wish to repeat the reasoning here. I believe that peace is a precious commodity and therefore it requires both parties to pay a high price for its achievement, reaching a solution that is agreeable to both. The peace deal should be attractive to both Israel and Palestine, equally. It cannot be one-sided, enforced or coerced. A two-state solution is the only viable, long-term solution from which both sides can profit. While the strategy is to reach that solution, the tactics for reaching it need to address present realities and new complexities that are the result of the latest round of hostilities between Israel and Hamas.

Conclusion

To resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict there is a need for courageous decision-makers who seize the opportunities presented to them and make the most for their peoples. As a shrewd businessman, President Trump knows that high stakes require high efforts and investment.

For such a momentous achievement of resolving a deep, entrenched conflict, three things are absolutely essential:

  • An Israeli leader who is committed to bring peace to his people and is willing to pay the necessary price;
  • A Palestinian leader who is committed to bring peace to his people and is willing to pay the necessary price;
  • Shared belief by both leaders that the time is ripe for peace. By “time is ripe” it is meant that both leaders believe that enough blood was shed, that they need to seize the moment because things might worsened for their people, and that they have the ability to lead their respective people to accept the peace agreement and change reality for the better.

President Trump can instill a sense of urgency in Israel and Palestine. He has the ability to assist in building trust, good will and security. The United States has the capabilities to consolidate economic conditions for Palestinians; bolster security on both sides; enshrine insistence on zero tolerance regarding all forms of violence; stop Israel from enlarging existing settlements; provide assurances for Israel so it could safely dismantle checkpoints to make the lives of Palestinian civilians easier, and involve the international community in the trust-building process. The road is long and trying but the potential reward is worthy of all efforts. With true commitment to achieve peace in our lifetime, President Trump the bulldozer may succeed in fulfilling a much-desired dream, creating a new chapter in the history of Israel and Palestine in which children can grow up liking each other, recognizing the many similarities that exist between them, and replacing the sword with a plough.

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