Israeli goodwill crucial if US peace plan is to succeed

Israeli goodwill crucial if US peace plan is to succeed

Buildings in Sur Bahir threatened with demolition by Israel. (Photo: OCHA/UN)

Three senior UN officials last week issued a joint statement urging the Israeli authorities to renounce their decision to demolish 10 buildings, including 70 apartments, in Sur Bahir due to their proximity to the West Bank barrier. Seventeen Palestinians, including nine refugees, will be displaced, while more than 350 others will face massive property loss.

Such a decision by the Israeli authorities represents a hurdle for the Trump administration’s efforts to offer any solution to the current conflict. Actually, such behavior could be embarrassing to the White House, even if the US does not admit it. Meanwhile, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman does not inspire confidence among the Palestinians. He claims that Israel is on the side of God and says that Israel has the right to annex parts of the West Bank. He has also said that the Trump initiative does not offer a permanent solution.

The US has launched a peace initiative that has been rebuffed by many Arab countries and by the Palestinians themselves. The governments of Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine boycotted the Americans’ launch of the economic part of their plan at the “Peace to Prosperity” workshop in Bahrain last month. It has been looked at by many Arabs as a sellout of the Palestinians’ cause. So far, only the economic plan has been revealed, which is a set of projects in infrastructure, female empowerment, governance and others. However, none of those projects can be achieved under the current political conditions.

The general consensus among Arabs and Europeans is that a political plan should precede the economic one in order to make it executable. So far, Israel’s behavior does not show any goodwill. One of the components of the project is governance, hence managing properties. But proper governance is not possible under occupation, when there is no respect of private property and when, every now and then, haphazard demolitions are undertaken.

Arab Gulf states gave the Trump administration the benefit of the doubt and hosted and participated in the Peace to Prosperity event. However, Israel’s behavior makes it more and more difficult for them to line up with the Trump administration. Today, Arab Gulf states see in Iran a looming danger and want to solve the Palestinian issue as soon as possible to create a united front against the Islamic Republic. We have seen unusual visits from Israeli officials to Arab Gulf states. However, this rapprochement is likely to be limited unless there is a real solution to the Palestinian cause.

Netanyahu does not seem to stop at anything. His indoctrination is alienating American policy in the Middle East.

Dania Koleilat Khatib

Israel could have seized this historic moment and showed goodwill. Instead, Benjamin Netanyahu’s government looked at it as an opportunity to push his right-wing, racist settlers’ policies; hence the demolitions at Sur Bahir.

The Trump administration is facing an uphill battle. It has no credibility in the Arab world, in Europe or at the UN after taking unilateral decisions, such as recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and Israel’s annexation of the occupied Golan Heights. But Netanyahu is making Trump’s task even harder. Unless Israel shows goodwill, any initiative taken by the Trump administration will not be accepted. Israel has the upper hand. It could stop today the demolitions and ease the movement of goods and people in the West Bank. However, Netanyahu’s government chooses not to do so.

There is a general Arab consensus that negotiations with Israel are just a public relations stunt that Netanyahu is staging to show the world he wants a solution and peace, whereas he actually wants to keep the status quo and increase the settlements.

Netanyahu does not seem to stop at anything. His indoctrination is alienating American policy in the Middle East. Moreover, his racist policies are turning off the American Jewry, which is the core of US support for Israel. Netanyahu does not realize that he is shooting himself in the foot. The American Jewry favors two-state solutions that benefit both the Israelis and Palestinians, allowing them to live peacefully side by side.

Netanyahu’s racist policies are a strategic risk for Israel but he does not seem to see that. On the other hand, the Israeli PM sees the Arabs scrambling to face Iran as an opportunity to extort maximum concessions from the Palestinians. He also sees an opportunity to put pressure on Arab countries to let him have a free hand. Given that no protests took place in Arab capitals when the US declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel, Netanyahu had the impression that Palestine is no longer an important cause and that he can go on with his abusive policies.

However, this abuse has a limit. It is better for Israel to show some goodwill because the Palestinians’ situation is becoming intolerable. If Israel does not offer any concessions or show any goodwill, the US initiative will probably fail. It is possible that we could then face another intifada. And the last thing Trump wants to face, while he is campaigning for re-election, is a foreign policy blunder.

  • Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib is a specialist in US-Arab relations with a focus on lobbying. She holds a Ph.D. in politics from the University of Exeter and is an affiliated scholar with the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut.
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