Recently, Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law who is tasked with working on Israeli-Palestinian peace, paid a visit to Saeb Erekat. The veteran Palestinian negotiator was recuperating in Virginia from a lung transplant. According to The Washington Post, “after briefly considering, and then nixing, wine — Erekat is Muslim — Kushner ultimately brought chocolate.”
While Erekat undoubtedly appreciated the gesture, chocolates alone are not likely to woo the Palestinians to a peace plan that Kushner and the Trump administration are reportedly drafting and will unveil early next year. We trust that the administration has learned the lessons of failed peace efforts. One of those lessons is that failure is more destructive than no attempt at all. Another is that neither Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu nor Palestinian President Abbas is in a strong enough political position to go much beyond the status quo.
An Israeli TV report claimed to reveal details of the plan. According to that report, while Trump has not endorsed a two-state solution to the conflict, the administration sees a Palestinian state as a central element to a peace deal. In addition, according to The Times of Israel, the United States will not insist on the evacuation of any settlements, with Washington backing “most of Israel’s security demands regarding the West Bank.” And, according to those reports, the status of Jerusalem is not under consideration.
Both Washington and Jerusalem dismissed the reports. But writing in Bloomberg View, Ami Ayalon, a former Shin Bet head, attorney Gilead Sher and businessman Orni Petruschka voiced concern that the absence of an agreement, or at least genuine progress toward an agreement, “jeopardizes Israel’s security and its status as the democratic nation-state of the Jewish people.” On a regional level, they added that the continuation of the coalition of Arab states and Israel that are working to counter Iran “is simply not possible without advancement on the Israeli-Palestinian track.”
We don’t know whether Ayalon, Sher and Petruchka are right or wrong. But we do know that their view deserves serious consideration. As does the idea that if the issue of Jerusalem, which has scuttled previous peace attempts, is not part of a peace solution, it will be a nonstarter for the Palestinians. And if Israel’s security demands are also not met, the plan might be dead on arrival in Jerusalem, as well.
The Trump administration clearly knows that the Palestinians have turned down some pretty enticing deals in the past. But that knowledge doesn’t seem to have influenced the reported plan being developed. Indeed, the administration’s announcement that it will close the PLO office in Washington, only to abruptly backtrack late last week, raises real questions about how fully this administration understands the delicate diplomatic dance necessary to move peace forward. That need for appreciation of the nuances in the process cannot be overcome by chocolate, or by the president’s grand vision of an “ultimate deal.”