Without a basis for negotiation around which both sides feel they can come to the table, peace will remain elusive.
Yesterday, at an East Room gathering, President Trump, alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, unveiled his administration’s plan to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As promised at the outset of his remarks, the approach represents a vision “fundamentally different from past proposals.” The event itself—with the plan unveiled by U.S. and Israeli leadership—presented a visual that underscored this difference, and the challenge this plan faces if it is to chart a course to peace.
Without progress toward a comprehensive solution, we may see unilateral measures and rising tensions.
Despite tremendous effort exerted since the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a two-state solution, peace has been elusive. Today, there is a growing feeling among Palestinians, Israelis and the international community that the two-state paradigm may no longer be viable. USIP’s Ambassador Hesham Youssef examines the potential scenarios facing Israelis, Palestinians and the region as the stalemated conflict continues without progress toward two states.
Despite the announcement by the Hamas leadership that it was willing to disband the administrative committee for the Gaza Strip, which was founded six months ago as an act of defiance against PA President Mahmoud Abbas, the road to Palestinian reconciliation is still long. Moreover, it is quite likely that Hamas has maneuvered skillfully, and has successfully caught Abbas and the PA in a honey trap, since if the PA-led Palestinian government returns to Gaza, it will assume the heavy responsibility for reconstruction in the Gaza Strip and the welfare of the population.
Donald Trump entered the White House promising to be ‘the most pro-Israel president ever’. This hyperbolic bombast gratified what is certainly the most right-wing Israeli government ever, which is celebrating the 50th anniversary of Israel’s crushing victory over Arab armies in 1967, and half a century of occupation of the West Bank and Arab east Jerusalem it has no plans to end.
President Trump, the self-described dealmaker, keeps hinting and tweeting he is on course to do ‘the ultimate deal’ that has eluded his predecessors: never spelt out but assumed to mean an Arab-Israeli peace encompassing a deal for the Palestinians, who have sought in vain the state proffered tantalisingly by the Oslo accords of 1993-95.
This most erratic of US presidents, meeting Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, in February, threw the international consensus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since Oslo to the winds, saying that the two-state solution, meant to offer security to Israel and justice to the Palestinians, may not be the way to resolve it. ‘I am looking at two-state and one-state [solutions], and I like the one that both parties like,’ Trump said, to nervous chortles from Netanyahu and general bemusement.
Until recently, Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation was seen as a unique ‘success story’ of the Middle East Peace Process. However, recent developments seem to be challenging this narrative; only last month, demonstrations attracted thousands of Palestinian protesters who demanded the suspension of cooperation with Israel. Shortly before this, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas threatened to end Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation in response to a new Knesset law which retroactively legalised some 4,000 Israeli settler houses built on private Palestinian land. Consequently, one of the cornerstones of the Oslo Accords now appears to be under real threat.
Effective cooperation – what for?
Cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians in security terms has hitherto been robust in the West Bank (Hamas put an end to it in Gaza in 2007) and dates back to the 1993 Oslo Accords. These stipulated the creation of ‘a strong police force’ which would guarantee public order and internal security for Palestinians, while the Israeli state was to be responsible for countering external threats and ensuring the overall security of Israelis. Today, with over 44% of public sector employees in the PA working in the security sector (over 80,000 people), it remains a major provider of income to the Palestinian population. It also accounts for the lion’s share of the PA’s annual budget, with 30-45% allocated to this sector.