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January 15, 2019 8:42 am

Trump Should Endorse the Bush-Sharon Letter

avatar by Mitchell Bard


Former President George W. Bush and other family members watch as the casket of former President George H.W. Bush is carried to lie in state in the rotunda of the US Capitol, Monday, Dec. 3, 2018, in Washington. Photo: Alex Brandon/Pool via Reuters.

We don’t know what Donald Trump’s “ultimate deal” for Mideast peace will look like, but we have some hints based on statements by Palestinian officials.

So far, Trump has radically changed America’s approach to the peace process, which previously was driven by the Arabist view that Israel must make all the concessions. Trump has taken two of the four “final status” issues — Jerusalem and refugees — off the table, leaving only settlements and borders. He can also take a big step toward narrowing those two issues by endorsing the letter that President George W. Bush wrote to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2004.

Trump’s reorientation of US policy has changed the previous dynamic, which had given Palestinians the impression that they could expect the United States to impose a solution on Israel that would require little or nothing from them. According to Mahmoud Abbas, the administration wants the Jerusalem suburb of Abu Dis to be the capital of any Palestinian state. Abbas immediately feigned outrage, even though he proposed this himself in 1995. In fact, the Palestinians were so convinced this would be their capital that they built a parliament building there that remains standing.

The administration has also rejected the Palestinian demand for the return of refugees to Israel, and has defunded the UN Palestinian refugee organization that unconscionably supports terror and has perpetuated Palestinian misery for decades. Trump should add an additional nail to the coffin of the bogus refugee issue by releasing the study done by the State Department that was classified by the Obama administration, which reportedly found that the number of Palestinian refugees is closer to 20,000 than the five million claimed by the Palestinians and the UN. The administration also sent a powerful message that it would not tolerate Palestinian support for terrorism or American taxpayers subsidizing Palestinian financial incentives for committing acts of violence against Israelis.

Trump should now take one additional step to reinforce the message that the Palestinians will never achieve their maximalist goals by reiterating the position taken by Bush in his letter to Sharon. The letter said:

In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion. It is realistic to expect that any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities.

The Obama administration pointedly refused to accept Bush’s position, and undermined it by pressuring Israel to accept Palestinian demands and repeatedly criticizing Israeli settlements. As former peace negotiator Dennis Ross noted, resurrecting the Bush-Sharon understanding between the leaders is important “because it said that no agreement can involve going back to the 1949 Armistice lines or the equivalent of June 4, 1967.” It is also important, Ross said, because the Obama administration’s decision to abstain on UN Security Council Resolution 2334 “effectively created June 4, ’67 as a default position.”

Trump should also reiterate Bush’s position that the Palestinians ”undertake an immediate cessation of armed activity and all acts of violence against Israelis anywhere, and all official Palestinian institutions must end incitement against Israel. The Palestinian leadership must act decisively against terror, including sustained, targeted, and effective operations to stop terrorism and dismantle terrorist capabilities and infrastructure.” This applied to both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.

The Palestinians recognize their predicament under the new reality of Trump’s policies, and have concentrated their efforts on the UN and the international community. They know, however, that the gambit is ultimately futile so long as the United States is prepared to veto punitive measures directed at Israel in the Security Council. Still, until their leaders are convinced they have run out of options, they will remain intransigent — to the ongoing detriment of their people.

If Trump also reiterates Bush’s position that the Arab states “move toward more normal relations with the State of Israel,” he may create the leverage ultimately needed to bring the Palestinians to the negotiating table with realistic rather than delusional expectations. The Arab world has grown increasingly fed up with the Palestinians, who were always seen as no more than pawns in what was once a general Arab-Israeli conflict. If the Palestinians are isolated in the Arab world (the non-Arab Iranians will still use them as pawns), they may finally see the light, and force their leaders to seek an agreement.

Mitchell Bard is Executive Director of AICE and Jewish Virtual Library.

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