Increasingly, the less-than-ideal relationship between U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is turning into a pox on both their houses. With the onset of Israeli elections, the possibility of any kind of resumption of negotiations with the Palestinians is even slimmer than it already was.
If President Obama wants to entice Bibi into restarting negotiations, while facing Israeli elections, Mr. Obama may want to consider just a few “confidence building” measures. The following five ideas could help ease tension between the leaders and reassure Israelis who worry about America’s allegiance. These are also based on the idea that Netanyahu actually does want to reach a final status resulting in “Two peoples liv[ing] freely side-by-side”
One: Make the Jerusalem Embassy Act law and move the United States’ embassy to Jerusalem. Clearly and firmly declaring (and demonstrating) that the United States views Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. This would not preclude the United States from recognizing a Palestinian capital in the city at a later date, should negotiations result in some sort of split of the city.
Two: Release Jonathan Pollard. Although the treasonous crime perpetrated by Pollard warrants punishment, at this point he’s been in jail far longer than people who have been convicted of similar crimes. Members of the Defense Community may be staunchly opposed to the release, but it would make a tremendous difference to Netanyahu and his right wing allies.
Three: Present a map. Negotiations have been going on since the late 1980s; maps for a final agreement have been floated multiple times – at the very least by President Clinton and Prime Minister Ehud Barak in 2000 and, President Bush and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2008. This doesn’t include the numerous think tanks, policy groups and other organizations that have proposed final status maps. Based on reports from the most recent John Kerry officiated negotiations a map that bears at least the semblance of Mr. Obama’s approval exists. The theoretical borders are not a surprise at this point. The “land-swap” percentage may be marginally changed, but the outline of the border (save for Jerusalem) will not be met by much shock. Mr. Netanyahu would be well served to accept a border, which would enable him to continue the “density growth” of additional construction within Israeli borders – rather than the areas continuing to be viewed as “settlements”.
Four: Commit to American assistance in the Jordan Valley. One of Mr. Netanyahu’s “Three Pillars” of peace has been has been “a long term Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley”. His fear is invasion from the east, more understandable with the ongoing ISIL threat, but enough of an impediment to the process to create a nearly off-limits issue. While he has said that he won’t accept anything other than Israeli soldiers, making a clear American commitment and setting a timeline for removal would be a good place to start to entice Netanyahu back to the negotiation table.
Five: Pledge to veto any Palestinian move at the United Nations. The Palestinian delegation intends to ask, as soon as this week, the Jordanian delegation to bring to the United Nations Security Council a resolution setting a two-year deadline for peace talks on Palestinian Statehood. To date, the United States has not said it will use its veto power as a permanent member to prevent the resolution from passing.
I remain curious as to why the Administration doesn’t just use a “Get out of jail free” card by saying something along the lines of “final status cannot be reached through the UN, bringing this issue to the UN is counter to the agreed upon Oslo Accords, therefore the United States will not support it and will veto it.” Kerry has gotten close, but hasn’t really gone nearly far enough. Obama’s full-throated announcement and commitment to veto any step towards statehood the Palestinians take, would alleviate a tremendous amount of Israeli (and American Jewish) concern.
None of these five things will likely turn Obama and Netanyahu into best friends. Security cooperation between the countries remain at an all time high, even if the leaders can think of several forms of torture they’d rather endure than deal with one another. Nor will restarting negotiations change the current feelings on the Palestinian street, but Obama can demonstrate his support for Israel and its elected leader by making these moves (steps that many expect will be taken anyway) now.