The election of Donald Trump has brought a change to US diplomacy and world affairs not seen perhaps anytime in modern US history. His brash style and extreme statements by and large have led to a convulsion by even Most of America’s closest allies. And while there is no question that Trump’s relations with Israel today are light years from where things ended with the Obama administration, it is still unclear what that means for Israeli-US relations in the long run, as well as for American efforts to finally reach a peace accord between Israelis and Palestinians.
Too many observers have been quick to state that for the US to successfully steer the Israelis, Palestinians and general Arab world to peace, the US must become more critical of Israel and therefore more “even-handed.” They argue that in international negotiations, this neutrality is critical for a true peace to be reached. And in fact this position was tried under the Obama administration from its very beginnings, starting with Obama’s speech in Cairo and intentional avoidance of Israel during that tour of the Middle East. Showing increased consternation towards Israel is certainly one way to force an accord, but in the case of Israel, it’s leadership and history, it will fail time and again.
A second, perhaps less well known argument in international negotiation and conflict resolution states that some parties will only be convinced to reach a peace accord when the mediator is biased towards the stronger party; in this case Israel. Only when Israel feels secure in knowing that the mediators are true friends, and that they would never be willing to risk Israeli lives or the security of its state, will it agree to a peace agreement.
The truth is, both types of US mediating styles have been attempted in the past. It has led to numerous Israeli peace offers that were rejected outright by the Palestinian side. These include overtures by both former prime ministers Barak and Olmert; efforts which fell along the “Clinton parameters” many argue is required to reach a final accord in the future.
The Trump administration, however, is going for broke in attempting the latter method. It is unafraid to show its love of Israel. And it does not hesitate to call out the Palestinian side for rejecting peace and taking extreme stances. However, it is also very keen on reaching a final settlement and being able to claim kingmaker for the world’s most intractable conflict.
Having spoken to senior members of the Trump Administration and negotiating team at the onset of their time in office, two things are apparent: (1) these guys undoubtedly love Israel; (2) they also are more in love with their Commander in Chief. And while Donald Trump likes Israel, he absolutely revels in the idea of becoming the one president to finally bring about a true Arab-Israeli accord. To do so will require a combination of showing a true understanding of Israeli concerns, an ability to call out the Palestinians, and also a dose of tough love towards Israel when the time comes. It will also take an American administration that is interested in ushering in a new era of cooperation between Israel and the greater Sunni Arab world, whether or not an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians can be achieved. And thanks in large part to Iran, Russia and the Palestinians themselves, it appears to have just that.
Any new peace initiative will need to shake things up, and not just repeat another variation of what Bill Clinton had the Israelis offer back in the 1990s. It will mean thinking outside of the box even more than was previously done. This will include getting the Egyptians on board to expand the territorial viability of the Gaza Strip, getting the Jordanians and Saudis involved in redefining the Palestinian relationship to Jerusalem, and getting the Arab world to help accept an accord where Israel is not forced to cede land and remove the Jewish population from the historically and culturally significant West Bank, without getting a reduction of its own Palestinian Arab population in return. These efforts will not be easy and will take some real convincing on all sides.
But there are some events that may help push this initiative along. This includes the Arab world’s slow-to-realize tipping point that its rabidly pro-Palestinian rhetoric may actually be hurting their own internal domestic policies (not to mention security); that Iran is its real enemy in the Middle East and Israel can help them in these efforts; and perhaps even that Bibi Netanyahu may soon be forced from his perch, perhaps ushering a new Israeli leader more eager to show his or her willingness to come up with a creative solution.
Time and again, President Trump has made cringe-worthy comment after cringe-worthy comment that has led to a loss of American standing around the world. But in the case of a potential Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, The Donald may be just what is needed for the “ultimate deal” to finally be achieved.