U.S. Ambassador Thomas Nides spoke before the conference of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Israel this week. He was charming and reassuring, and stressed the bipartisan nature of American government support for Israel. “We have unbreakable ties, and we will reinforce them.” Unfortunately, he also took a large step backwards in the American position towards a potential peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
President Joe Biden, he said, “fully and completely believes a two-state solution is best for Israel.” He added that it is “imperative to take care of the Palestinian people,” noting $450 million U.S. tax dollars poured into organizations offering “programs for the people. They deserve dignity and security … dignity and a two-state solution.”
Then the kicker: “We want to see that neither side does stupid things.”
Nides did say this may not be the time to achieve an agreement, but what is “best for Israel” is Jerusalem’s call. Frankly, the “two-state solution” was never a great deal for the Palestinians, and the nearly 30 years since Oslo haven’t made it better. Two states presume, generally, the Palestinians will get most of Judea and Samaria, and the Gaza Strip. This means a split, rump state squeezed between Israel and Jordan. It means giving up the theoretical right to the Galilee, Haifa, the Negev Desert and the “right of return.” It means betraying generations of people held in U.N.-run camps and denied a normal, productive life in in the Arab world on the promise of the destruction of Israel.
Those are big, big asks of Palestinian leadership. And we’re not asking.
Nides must know the Palestinians have never accepted the language of U.N. Resolution 242 that posits the “legitimacy and permanence” of Israel behind “secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.” There is, occasionally, Palestinian recognition of “the existence of Israel.” (It is hard to miss 9 million people and the Tel Aviv skyline, right?) Never, however, has the right of Israel to determine its future as an independent, secure Jewish state been recognized by Hamas or the Palestinian Authority.
The ambassador referred only to “the Palestinian people.” But a deal has to be negotiated with ruling parties—Hamas or the P.A. Neither is democratic or allows for free expression. Both steal from the government trough and incite terrorism, and one pays for it in violation of U.S. law. One fires rockets into civilian towns and villages while both support calumny of “apartheid” Israel. Nides did not demand that either Palestinian government give its own people—let alone the Israeli people—“dignity and security.”
Why? Because of the kicker. The United States has returned to its earlier position as a neutral party between Israel and the Palestinians—neither side should do “stupid things.”
This is the reversal of a key tenet of the Trump administration’s short-lived “Peace to Prosperity” Mideast plan, which was the direct precursor to the Abraham Accords. (No one ever bet on this plan. I was at the rollout, and so were three then-unusual Arab ambassadors, setting the stage for the real future.) Former President Donald Trump explicitly moved U.S. policy from “neutral” to “honest broker.”
Neutrality accepts the positions of both parties as equally compelling. An honest broker has the ability—the right—to have its own interests, and in this case, American interests. The first of these is that Israel is a friend and ally by its very nature. Human rights, rule of law, free elections, freedom of religion and the press, security interests and a high-tech, open economy are built into its society. At the same time, there are things the P.A. does that are unacceptable to Israel and should be to the United States.
Giving up those unacceptable things before America supports the Palestinian desire for an independent state is what some people call “preconditions.” Yes. Precisely. Neutral parties don’t do that—honest brokers do. The P.A. has to be an acceptable interlocutor, and it is not. Trump offered them a (very, very low) bar:
- Adopt basic laws ensuring basic human rights and protecting against financial and political corruption;
- Stop malign activities of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad;
- End incitement against Israel; and
- Permanently halt financial compensation to terrorists.
Does Nides consider these appropriate preconditions? If so, has he demanded them? If so, has Palestinian leadership complied? If not, why does the U.S. government continue to promote their interests?
Nides called himself a “fan of the Abraham Accords” and said the burgeoning agreements in the region could enhance the economy of both Israel and the Palestinians. But the Gulf States are distancing themselves publicly and loudly from Palestinian leadership, particularly after Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) led a pro-Houthi demonstration in Gaza following the missile strike on the United Arab Emirates. There was such a backlash that Hamas was forced to distance itself. Hamas, however, is reliant on Iranian funds and politics.
Nides made a good case for the Biden administration’s close relations with Israel and its commitment to Israel’s defense. “This is how Joe Biden sees it; he considers himself a Zionist.” That’s good. But Israel and its friends are moving forward in the region. The administration should join them rather than rehashing and promoting an unsuccessful past.
Shoshana Bryen is senior director of the Jewish Policy Center and editor of inFOCUS Quarterly.