Published On: Sun, May 28th, 2017

Jeremy Ben-Ami: What are the Chances? Donald Trump and the “Ultimate Deal”

President Trump’s trip to the Middle East has set off a heated debate on whether those who oppose the president could possibly support efforts he makes to achieve Israeli-Arab peace, a goal he has termed “the ultimate deal.”

For many of us, the notion that anything positive could happen under this president’s watch is — to put it mildly — inconceivable.

J Street’s opposition to President Trump and his agenda, his policy, appointees, and budget, is clear. So too is our publicly stated view that candidate Donald Trump was not fit for the office he sought — a view that, four months into his term, is looking ever more prescient.

Yet, against this backdrop, we face the possibility that on this administration’s watch, there could be a serious effort to advance a diplomatic resolution of the conflict.

The news is full of rumors:

  • Palestinian sources report that presidential envoy Jason Greenblatt, who returned to the region immediately after the president’s trip, is proposing a summit next month between President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu.
  • Israel’s Channel 10 reports that the Trump team was not satisfied by the economic package offered by Israel to the Palestinians last week and wants to see more. Specifically, they have apparently asked for areas in the northern West Bank to be re-designated from total Israeli control (Area C) to Palestinian administrative control (Area B).
  • The Times of Israel reports that a senior US official in a press briefing on Air Force One said that there is a talk of establishing a “common set of principles” as the first step toward peace — a step J Street has long supported.
  • Lastly, the London-based Arabic daily Al-Hayat reports that President Trump will announce a new peace initiative within a month.

The administration appears to recognize the emerging alignment of interests and of worldview between Israel and its neighbors — Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, and other Arab nations.

While we don’t buy a simplistic black-and-white approach to the complex regional dynamics vis-a-vis Iran, we do think it makes sense to take advantage of the new strategic reality in the region.

As leaders in Israel and many of the Arab states see each other more and more as potential strategic partners, rather than implacable enemies, the door is open for the kind of comprehensive, regional approach to the conflict that J Street strongly endorses.

For many in J Street, the possibility of not opposing, let alone supporting, an initiative of this administration induces cognitive dissonance.

Yet it’s vital to remember that this organization’s core policy objective is to promote and support a negotiated resolution to Israel’s conflicts with its neighbors — securing Israel’s future and its democratic and Jewish character — while achieving Palestinian independence and an end to the 50-year occupation.

Of course, there’s nothing concrete on the table yet for us to either support or oppose. We’re not exactly on the verge of the beginning of meaningful diplomacy — let alone, an agreement. Many have tried to end this conflict and, contrary to Trump’s assertions, we know it is not and never has been easy.

Therefore we remain skeptical.

What would we need to see before we determine whether there is anything here for J Street to support?

First, the administration would have to state explicitly what we all know to be true: There will be no “ultimate deal” if it’s not centered on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Second, we’d need to see the actual principles on which this diplomatic initiative will be based. After a quarter-century of diplomacy, there’s no point in starting talks with a blank slate once again.

Third, only serious actions can demonstrate the serious purpose. Steps by all parties — such as transferring further West Bank land to Palestinian civil control, fighting incitement, providing economic incentives and limiting settlement growth — would indicate there’s more to this new effort than empty rhetoric.

We are clear-eyed and realistic about the chances of success.

There are questions about the will and the capacity of the leaders on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides. There are many competing priorities for presidential attention — here at home, in the region, and around the world.

However, let there be no doubt: If a serious effort does begin, marked by real actions, clear principles and meaningful determination, J Street will support it.

And we’ll do that without, for one minute, abandoning our core values and principles or our fight against the many other aspects of the administration’s policies and positions that we oppose.

It should be our hope — not our fear — that we actually face the decision of whether to support an “ultimate deal” reached on the watch of a president so many of us deeply oppose.

 

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