By Larry Gordon
Whatever deal or Mideast peace plan Donald Trump comes up with, it will not be the stale and already expired ideas that have been promoted by previous administrations for decades with little or no success.
The Palestinians, led by their unelected leader Mahmoud Abbas, will be at the White House over the next few weeks. You can rest assured that while he might be interested in what he is going to hear from President Trump, he is probably not too excited about it.
Peace is possible, and everyone—even those of us on the right here in New York—is anxious for there to be a peace that benefits all the people in the region. It has always been a little strange that the farther away one might live from Israel, the more right-leaning or even extreme their politics are.
A few weeks ago, after Mr. Trump assumed office, the feeling was, here in New York anyway, that it would be a new day and the Israelis would be free to act, in contrast to the resistance they were forced to deal with while Barack Obama was president.
So first here’s a little context and a small dose of history. It takes a tough right-wing leader in Israel to make any progress at all with the wayward and obdurate—not to mention corrupt—Palestinian Authority. Diplomatically, it does not help matters to refer to them as corrupt, as that would only cause them to withdraw and become even more intractable in their positions. But that is on the diplomatic front; here we can tell it like it is.
Just recall for a moment that it took a great right-wing statesman like Menachem Begin to patch together a peace treaty with Egypt. That included the difficult decision involved in withdrawing and destroying a Jewish settlement community in Sinai—Yamit.
Though it proved to be an extraordinary miscalculation and colossal error, it took Ariel Sharon to remove Jews from their homes in Gaza. Those were sad and difficult days for Israel, but the point is that a leftist leader in Israel—Tzipi Livni or Isaac Herzog—could not have gotten that done.
A few weeks ago in this space, I wrote that it was prudent of Israel not to urge the U.S. or President Trump to speed up the move of the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem. This cautious and deliberate approach in part paved the way for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to move forward with David Friedman’s nomination as the U.S. ambassador to Israel. The president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has been designated to oversee the new peace process between Israel and the Palestinians—that is, if the Arab side does not demand conditions in order to enter discussions about the possibility of peace.
And this week, Jason Greenblatt—Mr. Trump’s longtime chief lawyer—was in Israel to talk with both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas as a way of exploring what the starting point might be for future talks that someday might bring a new and refreshing peace to Israel and the Middle East.
So let’s stop for a moment, take a breath, and take stock. What we have here are three rather brilliant and accomplished men, all graduates of New York-area yeshivas, charged with putting things in order and making a deal that makes reconciliation possible, stops the violence, halts the incitement, and brings peace to the region.
From another vantage point, Mr. Abbas’s head must be spinning. His people have most likely done their research; they know what the politics of these three men are—especially Mr. Friedman, who made it public over the last year. Mr. Abbas would have preferred dealing with John Kerry, Dan Shapiro, or Martin Indyk. But that combination did not work because there was a diplomatic imbalance at play; those men had a tactical astigmatism that did not allow them to see things as they are.
It appears now in mid-March that the Trump foreign-policy team—in likelihood coached by Prime Minister Netanyahu—quickly concluded that there is no need to rush or act with dispatch. This is a complicated part of the world that reacts to CNN and New York Times headlines and asks questions later—if ever.
The sense here was that with this pro-Israel team in place, the Palestinian leadership had lost their gamble and would now have to wait their turn. But smart and prudent thinking dictates that these issues be dealt with differently. So after seven weeks in office and all kinds of issues, Mr. Trump finally got around to calling Mr. Abbas and inviting him to the White House.
In preparation for that meeting, the administration sent the Trump confidant, Mr. Greenblatt, to meet with the prime minister and the PA president. The important and wonderful thing taking place here is that if there is a change in Israel policy on behalf of the U.S.—in a positive fashion according to our estimation—it will take months for that shift to be discerned. The situation in Israel and the way Israeli–Palestinian relations are structured do not allow for quick unexplained swings, modifications, or moves.
It all needs to proceed deliberately, slow and easy. That’s why the brakes were applied so swiftly to the move of the embassy to Jerusalem in the immediate aftermath of the election. Why shake things up just to shake them up?
The Palestinians are about to find out that for the first time in a long time and possibly the first time ever, they will be forced to deal with their desire for independence in a sensible and pragmatic fashion. The pro-Palestine Hollywood crowd, made up of those who have no idea why they favor so-called Palestinian independence, is also about to find out that there is much more at stake in these upcoming negotiations than the absurd idea that Jerusalem can be the capital city of two countries at the same time.
Two states or a divided Jerusalem, stopping settlement building, occupied territories—these are all slogans or pithy battle cries that have no substantive application to creating an environment of peace or improving the lives of all the people—Jews and Arabs—in the region.
To that end, the current talks between U.S. emissaries and Israeli officials are focused on setting up ground rules. And the main issue being discussed is the parameters of building in the settlement communities throughout Judea and Samaria. The first unarticulated matter is the distorted impression that there is parity between terrorist attacks against Jews and the building of homes for families in these communities.
With a sympathetic ear from Mr. Obama, the Palestinians were comfortable and confident aiming for the maximum, no matter how unrealistic or even impossible. But now there is a new sheriff in town—Mr. Trump—and a new set of rules is evolving. That does not mean unlimited building, but it does mean that if a family needs space in the home they’ve lived in for 40 years in Maale Adumim, there is no reason why building that additional bedroom should be a catalyst for an international incident and an emergency Security Council meeting.
And it does not mean that the U.S. embassy will be moved to Jerusalem tomorrow. It is right and justified that it should be, but there are many other aspects of this move to be considered. The bottom line is that it looks like Israel is in good hands and U.S.–Israel policy on a healthy track going forward.
Comments for Larry Gordon are welcome at email@example.com.