In the wake of our election and with Israeli and Palestinian politics seemingly deadlocked, many say there’s no chance to end this decades-old conflict. Yet, positive benchmarks from previous peace negotiations, combined with the untested Arab Peace Initiative suggest peace is still possible. The dangers of more violent conflict in a volatile region make peace an urgent priority. Especially in light of President-elect Trump’s initial choice for a new ambassador to Israel, President Obama needs to act now to protect the prospect for Israeli-Palestinian peace.
David Friedman is an awful choice for ambassador. His extreme views, including support for building more settlements in occupied territory, moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and comparing Jewish-American supporters of a two-state solution with Jews who cooperated with Nazis in concentration camps align with extreme rightwing views of a small minority of Israelis and represent a dangerous revision of principled US policies. Rather than serving President-elect Trump’s expressed hope to help achieve peace, an ambassador with a public record reflecting these views would fuel more violent conflict and further undermine US credibility in the region. The Senate should refuse to confirm David Friedman’s nomination.
What’s needed for peace is US policy determined to build on past progress. Years of negotiations produced principles and practical ideas for a two-state solution, including Ambassador Daniel C. Kurtzer’s, “Model for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations.” The Arab Peace Initiative, viewed positively by prominent retired Israeli military and security officials, offers Israel the possibility of normal relations with all Arab and Muslim countries. Successfully testing the Initiative’s flexibility in 2013, Secretary of State Kerry got the Arab League representative to agree with the idea of minor land swaps, which would allow Israel to keep territory close to the Green Line where 75-80 percent of settlements are located in exchange for ceding equal amounts of land to the Palestinian state.
Drawing on these proposals, President Obama should now offer a framework for peace to both Israel and the Palestinian Authority and, simultaneously, present the framework for UN Security Council endorsement. Even if neither side immediately accepts the framework, it would still be a gift to both sides because it would put the international community formally on record supporting a clear two-state plan, the only realistic resolution of the conflict in the foreseeable future. The parties would then have a starting point around which to begin final negotiations.
While there’s more talk today about “one-state,” neither side’s version stands a chance of being realized. Given tenacious Palestinian nationalist aspirations, the Israeli version of keeping control of the West Bank while only allowing Jews to vote would be undemocratic, unacceptable to Palestinians, and, ultimately, unsustainable. Given projected demographics, the Palestinian version of one-state with equal rights for all would be unacceptable to Israelis, since it would mean the end of Israel as a majority Jewish state.
Encouragingly, a recent reliable joint poll reveals that, despite deep distrust and disagreement on specific issues, the goal of two states is still supported by slim majorities on both sides. Furthermore, the poll suggests that if incentives were added for each side and if the peace plan included all Arab countries, it would likely be supported by larger majorities.
While President Obama might take some political heat for going to the UN, Security Council endorsement of a framework for a two-state agreement would actually be a gift for President-elect Trump. It would make it easier for him to stand strong and make the right, realistic moves for peace, including possibly announcing consequences if Israel continues to build more settlements. At the same time, the Security Council framework would make it harder for the president to weakly go along with current Israeli policies of expanding settlements and continuing control of the West Bank, while not permitting Palestinians to vote. Enabling these policies would condemn both peoples to many more years of violent conflict and the risk of another regional war.
President Trump will face difficult decisions concerning Israel-Palestine. Based on my years of interfaith work with mainstream American Jews, Christians, and Muslims, including prominent national religious leaders, I know for a fact that many have urgent concerns about the potentially calamitous consequences for Israelis and Palestinians if peace, in the form of a fair, workable two-state solution, is not achieved soon. As we approach the fiftieth anniversary of the 1967 war and UNSC Resolution 242, which provide the geographical and international legal basis for a realistic two-state solution, we all should offer prayers and pledge public support for President Obama and President-elect Trump to act boldly for peace.
Resolving this conflict will not resolve other regional conflicts, but it will remove one major source of instability and fuel for extremism. Israeli-Palestinian peace would be good for the United States, and good for the region and the world.
Ron Young lived in the Middle East for three years representing American, British and Canadian Quaker agencies. He regularly visited Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, and has led a dozen interfaith trips to the region. Currently, Ron serves as Consultant with the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative (NILI). This column represents Ron’s personal views, not the views of NILI. Ron can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.