Does Trump Get the Israel-Arab Problem?
Following high-level meetings with foreign leaders, the U.S. State Department issues a "readout," an official statement to cover and characterize the event. This week, Jared Kushner, assistant to the president, and Jason Greenblatt, special representative for international negotiations, met with Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. At the first meeting, they were accompanied by U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman, at the second by consul general in Jerusalem Don Bome.
The language was precisely the same in both readouts – with the exception of a single sentence modified in each – and included affirmation of "their commitment to advancing President Trump's goal of a genuine and lasting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians that enhances stability in the region."
The exception was:
- "The three officials discussed Israel's priorities and potential next steps with Prime Minister Netanyahu, acknowledging the critical role Israel plays in the security of the region."
- "The three officials discussed priorities for the Palestinians and potential next steps, acknowledging the need for economic opportunities for Palestinians and major investments in the Palestinian economy."
There are three things to learn from the readout.
First, if the administration believes that the goal is "peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians," it is in for the same disappointment faced by its predecessors. Peace is not a negotiable property – peace is at best the outgrowth of the settlement of a dispute by war or by politics. (Machiavelli called it "the condition imposed by the winner on the loser of the last war.") The dispute is and always was over the legitimacy and permanence of the State of Israel in the region.
The parties to the dispute are Israel and the Arab states, not Israel and the Palestinians. The crux of the dispute is the continuing refusal of Arab states – the losers of all the wars – to meet the central requirement of U.N. Resolution 242.
Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.
If the Arab States, including Saudi Arabia – the president's hoped-for partner in fighting Islamic radicalization – cannot accept the legitimacy of the State of Israel, it is impossible to believe that the Palestinians – riven with dissention, weak, corrupt, and split between the dictatorial hand of an 82-year-old who is in the 11th year of a four-year term and a fascist Islamic cadre in Gaza – will be able to make a deal with the Jewish State.
Asking the Palestinians to step out ahead of the Saudis, Qataris, Omanis, and others whose states of war with Israel predate the establishment of Israel in 1948 and continue to this day is asking too much. If, on the other hand, the Sunni Arab states are serious about a regional perspective that involves Israel, ending their illegitimate holdout on Resolution 242 would give the Palestinians more confidence that Abu Mazen or his successor won't be the next Anwar Sadat. And it will further undermine the legitimacy of Hamas in Gaza, advancing President Trump's goal of reducing radicalism in the region.
The second thing to learn from the readout is that the administration sees the Palestinian problem in economic terms and is prepared to work toward "major investments in the Palestinian economy." Here it is useful to refer to former secretary of state John Kerry, who, in 2013, announced his intention to raise $4.2 billion in private investment for the West Bank with the aim of increasing Palestinian GDP by 50%, cutting its unemployment by 66%, and just about doubling median Palestinian income.
The Palestinian response was that it will not be "bribed" into recognition of Israel. "The Palestinian leadership will not offer political concessions in exchange for economic benefits," Mohammad Mustafa, president of the Palestine Investment Fund and economic adviser to Mahmud Abbas, said in a statement.
In some ways, that position is a cover for economic reality – something Mr. Kushner and Mr. Greenblatt well understand. As I wrote in 2013, "In reality, investment flows organically to places with an educated population, security, and rule of law that protects intellectual property and the repatriation of profits. It flows, for example, to Israel. Countries or areas with corrupt financial practices, a dictatorial, bifurcated government, multiple security services and an education system that is heavy on ideology and the veneration of violence get less."
Palestinian poverty is not a plague or an earthquake that needs remediation; it is intimately related to Palestinian government policy.
And third, there is a difference between the State Department readout on a single meeting and what happens the rest of the time. The readout conveys a sense of agreement on peace and economic advancement. An Associated Press report, however, indicates that in a preparatory meeting, Greenblatt raised the issue of Palestinian Authority payments to terrorists and their families and cited that a Palestinian official complained that "the Americans 'are buying' Netanyahu's complaints ... and that Greenblatt was insisting on an end to the welfare payments." He called the meeting "tense." In another report, journalist Khalid Abu Toameh wrote that a Palestinian official complained, "Kushner and Greenblatt represent Netanyahu, and not the U.S. administration. They act according to Netanyahu's instructions."
The idea that American officials take orders from Israel is an old anti-Semitic canard, resurrected here for the new administration. Some things are better left out of the readout.