President Donald Trump’s Middle East “Deal of the Century” peace plan — The Vision — is 180 pages long and meticulously detailed. Read it if you like. But the president and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu covered the high points Tuesday before an enthusiastic, pro-Israel audience at the White House.
Regardless of how future negotiations go, the president’s management of The Vision and meetings with the prime minister and, separately, with Netanyahu’s chief political rival (Benny Gantz), were masterful in two ways. First, it allowed the Israelis to demonstrate that there are areas in which their two major political parties can agree, and that both can agree with Mr. Trump. Second, it allowed the president to erase the mistaken assumption that the United States has to be neutral between Israelis and Palestinians in order to make progress.
The United States can only be an “honest broker” if it eschews neutrality, which accepts all the positions of both parties as equally compelling. The Vision, and the East Room ceremony, address American interests, the first of which is that Israel is a friend and ally by its very nature. Human rights, rule of law, free elections, freedom of religion and the press, security interests, and a high-tech, open economy are built in. While the president was extraordinarily sympathetic to the Palestinian people — particularly young people whom he lamented are “growing up with no hope” — there are some things the Palestinian Authority (PA) does that are unacceptable not only to Israel, but also to the United States.
Giving up those unacceptable things before the U.S. will support Palestinians’ desire for an independent state is what some people call “preconditions.” Yes. Precisely. Neutral parties don’t do that — honest brokers do. The PA has to be an acceptable interlocutor and at the moment, it is not. But, said the president, “It is never too late. It is time to rise up and meet the challenges of the future. If they do it, it will work.”
What, exactly, does the president require?
In exchange for recognition of Palestine as the nation-state of the Palestinian people with a capital in Jerusalem (which will remain undivided and under Israeli sovereignty), “where the U.S. will proudly open an embassy,” plus massive international investment, he asked them to “meet the challenges of peaceful coexistence.”
- Adopt basic laws ensuring basic human rights and protecting against financial and political corruption;
- Stop malign activities of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad;
- End incitement against Israel; and
- Permanently halt financial compensation to terrorists
Let’s face it, these constitute a very low bar for civilized behavior. If the Palestinians can’t or won’t do those things, how much “peace” will any “process” provide? (One Twitter used asked, “Anyone think the Kurds would reject a deal that gave them a path to a state and $50 billion if they just behaved like human beings?”)
In addition, the president changed the timeline.
Life/conflict for Palestinians and Israelis did not start with Israel’s acquisition of Judea and Samaria in the course of defending itself from a combined multi-national Arab attack in 1967. “It is time for the Muslim world to fix the mistake it made in 1948, when it chose to attack instead of to recognize the new state of Israel. The Palestinians are the primary pawn in this adventurism, and it is time for this sad chapter in history to end.” By recognizing that the Palestinians were left hanging by their Arab brothers between 1948 and 1967, he made the solution to the Palestinian plight the Arab states’ responsibility, as well. Three Arab ambassadors were in the room.
Trump noted that Qassem Soleimani’s organization, the Quds Force, was, translated in English, the Jerusalem Liberation Organization. “To have Jerusalem be free [Soleimani said] we have to be at war with Israel. But, in truth, Jerusalem is liberated. Jerusalem is a safe, open, and democratic city.”
The president was fulsome in his praise of Israel, pleased that Israel had agreed — for the first time — to produce a map of what two states would look like. It would be useful to ask the Palestinians to produce a map with THEIR proposed settlement — but not until they come to the table.
And he was clear in his determination to ensure Israel’s security. “There will be no incremental risks to the state of Israel.” “Peace,” he added, “requires compromise, but we will never ask Israel to compromise its security.”
That is a far cry from prior administrations that demanded Israel take “risks for peace.” Those risks resulted in the so-called “intifada” after Israel signed the Oslo Accords and allowed the PA to have an armed security force; the entrenchment of Hezbollah in southern Lebanon after Israel departed there in 2000; and the rise of Hamas after Israel departed the Gaza Strip in 2005. Trump will not ask Israel to take more of those risks.
The Israelis know how rare it is to have an American president who sees the world the way they do. The Palestinians can take advantage of a president who wants to improve their future.
“America,” said the president, “cannot care more about peace than the stakeholders,” but he also was careful to mention that “this part of the world is forever connected to the human soul and the human spirit.”
Shoshana Bryen is Senior Director of The Jewish Policy Center in Washington, and Editor of inFOCUS Quarterly.