(August 31, 2017 / JNS)
By Ben Cohen/JNS.org
After several visits to Israeli leaders in Jerusalem and Palestinian leaders in Ramallah, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner’s attempt to restart the peace process has hit all the predictable obstacles.
With regards to the Palestinians, it all began quite nicely—perhaps too nicely for comfort—with Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas’s visit to President Donald Trump at the White House in May. That was when the gerontocratic Palestinian leader was allowed to get away with the claim that Palestinian children are reared in a “culture of peace.”
But then Kushner and his team started paying return visits. Throughout the series, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has outwardly remained a solid supporter of Kushner’s efforts, treating Trump’s son-in-law rather like a favorite nephew visiting from abroad—something that will surely not have gone unnoticed in the PA.
But in his meetings in Ramallah, Kushner has reportedly infuriated Abbas by hedging on American support for the two-state solution, and by broaching the PA’s disgraceful policy of spending $300 million of aid money annually on monthly salaries to Palestinian terrorists and their families.
In principle, both these ideas deserve serious consideration. Many good reasons to support the creation of an independent Palestinian state exist, but none of them circumvent the fact that, under current circumstances, any such truly sovereign state would be a failed one too—the site of internecine political violence between armed Palestinian factions, increasing Iranian penetration, terrorist attacks on Israel, and iron-fisted rule over a seething population repeatedly told that “the Zionists” are the true source of their woes.
By the same standard, any challenge to the PA’s “pay to slay” policy should only be welcomed.
But there is nothing to suggest that Kushner is going to make the sort of progress confidently promised by his employer and father-in-law shortly after the presidential inauguration.
Should Kushner’s initiative peter out, there is a strong case to be made that such an outcome would be, on balance, positive: It denies the Palestinians an opportunity to enter the talks in order to sell the world’s media on the idea that progress is being prevented by Israeli intransigence, and it potentially forces Abbas back into his sullen campaign for the unilateral recognition of Palestine at the U.N., something he put on ice after Trump’s election.
The current dynamic in the Middle East must also be considered. True, everyone has heard of the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel, and every president has wanted to claim the prize of resolving it once and for all—but the notion that it lies at the center of the region’s problems is simply outdated, as is the expectation that a golden age of peace and cooperation will quickly replace seven decades of anti-Zionist hatred.
Not just that, it’s preposterous, particularly when Iran’s military footprint is expanding into Syria and Lebanon, in part because of the U.S. administration’s decision to endorse the Syrian cease-fire agreement imposed by Russian President Vladimir Putin. That agreement includes no serious provisions for containing Iran. The Iranian threat is why many Israeli security analysts have admitted to being bewildered by the Kushner initiative, as well as uneasy with how it fits into Trump’s overall approach to the Middle East.
If Kushner does fail, there will be, I am fairly certain, one key difference between the response of this administration and the previous one of Barack Obama. Neither Trump nor Kushner is likely to blame Israel’s West Bank settlement policies for the impasse in talks. Nor is the U.S. poised to enable at the U.N. Security Council—as Obama did in his final month—the passage of a resolution placing the primary responsibility for political and territorial concessions upon Israel.
My hunch, and quite probably yours as well, is that a Kushner failure will be blamed largely on the Palestinians. Trump, after all, says he wants the Palestinians and the Israelis to treat each other as negotiating partners; currently, he and Kushner are discovering that the Palestinians want to be treated as innocent victims of Zionism before anything else. That is why, during those periods when the Palestinians do actually negotiate with Israel, it is dangerous to assume that they are doing so in order to arrive at a permanent solution. Sometimes, negotiations are the best excuse to keep the conflict going.
The Trump White House is also getting its first taste of the Palestinian political reality—more specifically, the historic tendency of the Palestinians to posit the kinds of demands that usually follow a military victory, rather than a defeat. Their leaders want the descendants of the refugees of 1948 to “return” to what is now Israel—a right not granted to the descendants of any other refugee population. They believe they enjoy divine grace to spend international aid on benefits for terrorists, and they portray any criticism of this practice as an assault on innocent women and children. Importantly for our purposes, they do not perceive the Jewish people as equals, certainly not in a national sense.
Of course, we’ve learned all those lessons before. Or so we thought.
Ben Cohen writes a weekly column for JNS.org on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics. His writings have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Haaretz, The Wall Street Journal and many other publications.