Thursday, January 27th | 26 Shevat 5782

July 16, 2019 5:42 am

Why Pressuring the Palestinians Might Work

avatar by Martin Oliner


Jared Kushner, senior adviser to US President Donald Trump, addresses the Bahrain “Peace to Prosperity” summit in Manama, Bahrain. Photo: Screenshot.

When Barack Obama was president of the United States, too many Americans, especially American Jews, adopted his policies and plans blindly. Obama’s plans put undue pressure on Israel, America’s closest ally. His policies also granted massive amounts of financial support to Iran, America’s greatest enemy. But in the eyes of Obama’s supporters, this was all kosher, because it came from a man who could seemingly walk on water.

Now that Donald Trump is president of the United States, this has all been reversed. It does not matter how correct his policies and plans might be. Too many Americans, especially American Jews, will oppose them blindly.

The same people who supported Obama’s awful deal with Iran, just because it had his name on it, will automatically oppose Trump’s plans for the Middle East, no matter how creative, fresh, properly researched, and well thought out.

Blindly ruling out Trump’s plans is illogical, because from what is known of them, they are very different from all other Middle East peace plans in the past. All those plans have failed pathetically, so Trump’s plan being different should give it more of a chance of success.

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The premise of past plans has been to pressure the party in the region perceived as stronger — Israel — to make serious concessions, while letting the Palestinians pay not much more than lip service. The worst example was Obama’s plan, in which borders would be decided at the beginning and the refugee issue at the end, meaning Israel gives up its territory and security first, in hopes that the Palestinians will later concede their desire to flood Israel with Arabs until it is no longer a Jewish state.

Trump’s plan remains unpublished except for its economic components. But it is clear that it will call for unprecedented pressure on the Palestinians.

This, unsurprisingly, has those who worked on past plans up in arms.

David Makovsky, who directs the Project on Arab-Israel Relations at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post criticizing the economic plan revealed by Trump’s senior adviser Jared Kushner at the conference in Bahrain, which Makovsky attended as an observer.

“The Trump administration and its critics share a common all-or-nothing approach to the Middle East, and when it’s all-or-nothing in the Middle East, it’s nothing,” Makovsky wrote. “There is a reason that Kushner cannot veer from the straitjacket of the all-or-nothing approach, which has been tried at least three times before in Israeli-Palestinian relations and failed repeatedly. The Trump administration’s method in this conflict, as it is to others, is to apply maximal pressure: You get nothing unless you agree to their deal.”

Makovsky wrote that Kushner should have instead suggested a few immediately achievable steps, no-strings-attached, such as economic projects for the Palestinians, but decided against it.

“The White House’s inflexible approach means that if the final-status ideas offered by the political portion of the plan don’t gain support, the economic package goes down the tubes,” he lamented. “The linkage is almost certainly doomed.”

No, David Makovsky. It is all the previous attempts to advance the diplomatic process in the Middle East that were doomed, because they did not put the pressure on the Palestinians that is needed to succeed. Giving the Palestinians a free pass for continuing to reject or violate every agreement proposed clearly did not work.

The linkage proposed by Kushner ensures that the Palestinians will no longer be let off the hook for their intransigence. From now on, they will be held accountable for their misdeeds, just like Israel and other states in conflicts around the world. Just like Trump promised when he ran for president, his administration is asking for success to be given a chance when it comes to Middle East peacemaking. After success was not achieved by pressuring Israel, isn’t pressuring the Palestinians worth trying?

Such policies should give those who want a brighter day for the Palestinians and the Israelis new hope.

They should seek that hope. Even if it comes from Donald Trump.

Martin Oliner is the co-president of the Religious Zionists of America, chairman of the Center for Righteousness and Integrity, and a committee member of the Jewish Agency.

A version of this article was originally published by The Jerusalem Post.

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