In the fall of 2014, I sat around a table in the State Department with forty representatives of Israeli and Palestinian civil society and the peace team of then Secretary John Kerry. After failing to get his framework agreement released as the proximity talks between the parties had broken down, we were there to ask why there had been no focus on bottom up peacebuilding during the attempt.
The senior advisors told the room that there was no bandwidth or budget for a focus on civil society efforts, and the team had been laser focused on security arrangements and a $4 billion economic package.
I was thinking of that meeting this weekend when the White House released its economic pitch deck promising $50 billion investments as the economic aspect of the ‘ultimate deal’. Despite Jared Kushner and the whole team claiming they were rejecting failed frameworks, here was another massive-scale infrastructure push, only this time without any input from the Palestinian business community or governing authority. Whereas Kerry had failed while everyone was in the room at a $4 billion push, here the Trump team was attempting a $50 billion push with none of the Palestinian beneficiaries willing to speak to them.
Reading through the pitch deck I was surprised to find faces of people I knew. Here was Robi and Bassam of the Parents Circle, a group of bereaved parents who work toward peace and reconciliation. Khaled, an olive farmer from the incredibly successful Olive Oil without Borders, was plastered over promises of empowering the Palestinian people.
The reason I was surprised to see these faces was that they were all from programs that the Trump administration has cut off over the past 18 months. People were fired, programs were shut down and decades of painstaking work was undercut by a sudden cancelation of contracts. Programs that were actually delivering economic wins for Israelis and Palestinian alike had not just been terminated, but their images were then used as a sales pitch for similar programs with higher price tags and no Palestinian buy-in.
Going through the 94-page brochure, many of the initiatives were ones that USAID was working on before the Trump Administration decided to cut off all funding and downsize the office drastically. Others had come from previous reports and studies of the Quartet and the World Bank. However, while each of the original reports couched the success of these projects’ major political changes, this economic plan has no bearing on the reality of development in the West Bank and Gaza.
The presentation reads as a literature review of all previous economic ideas with added bonuses like $80 million in grants for artists, $100 million for international consultants and $500 million for a new university. There are never unlimited resources but rather than pick and choose the vision seems to throw the kitchen sink, promising $3.3 billion in grants in the first year alone.
Beyond the presentation implementation seems impossible. A regional board of trustees taking over every major economic area of the West Bank and Gaza is foreboding for the political side of the plan that is yet to come. In addition, since the Trump Administration has taken office, Congress, who has always played a significant role in policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has made it extremely hard for the Administration to pay towards any of the plan.
Having signed into law both the Taylor Force Act and the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act, the administration has no bilateral options of funding left to them unless there is radical change in behavior of the Palestinian Authority. Failing that, they could not even fund around them given the limitation of funding projects that could benefit the Palestinian Authority under current US law. If they want to create new funding lines, they will need the support of both Houses of Congress, who seem less and less inclined to trust a process where no one knows what the political objective is.
Striving for peace is a relay race rather than a single administration’s triumph and learning from where Secretary Kerry left off the Trump Administration could create bandwidth and budget to ensure that the next generation of Israelis and Palestinians don’t hate each other.
Rather than cutting off the very programs that dealt with hate and incitement and use their images as a sales pitch for $50 billion in imaginary funding, the administration could follow the lead of Chairwomen Nita Lowey, Congressman Jeff Fortenberry, Senators Coons, Graham, Kaine and Gardner and get behind the Partnership Fund for Peace Act that was introduced earlier this month. Focused on investing in peacebuilding and joint economic development within the context of preserving a Two-State Solution, it doubles down on the investments that were creating the gradual change that is necessary for the macroeconomic projects to succeed.
The constituencies for peace do not currently exist and offering a mirage of $50 billion will not bridge the incredulity gap that has been created through decades of failure. Peace-building is uncomfortable and hard work. A tin cup and a literature review of what has come before will not cut it.
Israeli elections are fundamentally about parliamentary blocs. Whilst there is some excitement this time around that there could be an alternative to Netanyahu as Prime Minister, the chance of a real change in policy or direction by the Israeli government is stymied by the lack of realistic coalition partners that Benny Gantz, should he win, would be able to attract.
Since the election of Ehud Barak, the centre and Left in Israel has chosen to try and win power without a central pillar of their coalition. When Barak decided that a majority of Israelis was not good enough, but he needed a majority of Jewish Israelis he created a precedent that not only was morally dubious, but strategically disastrous.
Israel’s electoral system accords significant power to small parties. Often driven by fragments of society, these groups can at times play kingmaker. There are two groups who could do this: The Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox and the Arab citizens of Israel. Both communities have particular concerns. Both communities represent the poorest of Israel.
United Torah Judaism (UTJ) has received between 5-7 seats and has used their power to ensure hundreds of millions of dollars goes to their schools, and that they hold a monopoly of power on issues key to their base. UTJ have little to say about issues of war and peace and the right has been willing to accept almost any condition to keep them in the coalition.
The Arab Joint list received 13 seats in the last election. On average, the Arab parties generate 11-13 seats despite the fact that their turn out in national elections has been depressed since Barak’s decision to exclude them from government on the basis of their ethnicity.
Arab citizens of Israel are the most pro-peace constituency within the country, constantly voting at 20/30 points higher then Jews on their willingness to compromise and accept the Clinton parameters. Delegitimising their voices is crucial in order for right to stay in power, regardless of who heads the government.
Bibi’s last minute plea in the 2015 elections, that the Arabs were ‘voting in droves’, was the opening shot of a four year effort to ensure that the Arab ‘otherness’ prevented their ability to foster any meaningful link up with the Jewish left.
From the Nation State law to the Nakba law, the aim has been to ensure that the Arab narrative was cast outside the bounds of acceptable discourse and to tar and feather any who would seek to work with them. After the municipal elections when Haifa’s Mayor Einat Kalisch-Rotem offered Raja Za’atara of the joint list the deputy mayor position, a firestorm ensued, with the Prime Minister and Interior Minister attempting everything in their power to thwart the arrangement.
In the nascent campaign for the 21st Knesset, Bibi has used the specter of Benny Gantz relying on Tibi’s votes to form a government as a tool of delegitimisation. Fear of the Arabs coming to the polls won Bibi the last election; he hopes that playing the race card again will keep him in the top job.
Many I have spoken to over the years point to rightward trends in Israeli society and feel that if you can’t beat those using a narrative of fear, you should instead join them. The theory is that by appealing to Jewish fears of the Arab other, one can win the day against the annexationist right. The left’s idea has been that the desire for a Jewish majority – if wrapped in the rhetoric of fear – can help the separationist center capture right-wing voters who would rather give up land than accept living amongst more Arabs.
If you believed that peace was but an election away, I could perhaps see the strategic logic despite the moral cost. Yet looking at the attitudes of Palestinians and Israelis, and the lack of any discussion of peace or two states in the current election campaign, an agreement is unlikely to be secured during the next Knesset, as none of the necessary pre-requisites are in place, and there are deep levels of hostility and mistrust.
The Arab citizens of Israel could be the link between Israel and the Palestinians, able to sooth the fear and mistrust that decades of failure has generated. In order for them to be able to play that role however, they need to be respected and included.
In municipal partnerships the bonds between the Arab community and the Jewish community are forged, as grassroots engagement builds a shared society from the ground up. This essential work takes time and patience.
We are not there yet.
Despite all the analysis, campaigning and electioneering, the laws of electoral mathematics are unchanged. There is no path to a centre-Left government in Israel without some iteration of a coalition or a supply arrangement with the Arab bloc, something that the right has continued to make impossible in the current reality.
Gantz could win in April, and still be faced with coalition agreements committing him to a situation whereby progress on the peace process is as remote as ever.
If that is to change, a sincere commitment must be made to bring the Arab citizens of Israel into the political equations that determine government formation. According to the latest polls conducted by the Abraham Initiatives, two thirds of the Arab public want to see their representatives sitting in government. That is a base that can and must be built off, if we are ever to see the centre-Left’s return to power.
This first appeared in the Jerusalem Post March 25th 2018
by Jeremy Saltan and Joel Braunold
With the threat of new elections out of the headlines, the non-stop polling of the past month is expected to slow. During that time most analysts focused on the strength of the Likud, averaging at 31 seats over the past seven polls. Some analysts went deeper, looking at the shifts between the religious-right coalition and the center-left-Arab opposition blocs, particularly with both Shas and Yisrael Beitenu hovering around the electoral threshold. However, it is a trend that we have been tracking for some time that could have the biggest impact on the next Knesset – the quiet and rapid growth of the far-right vote.
In the 2013 Elections the Otmza L’Yisrael Party led by the secular Prof. Aryeh Eldad & Kahanist Dr. Michael Ben-Ari received 66,775 votes. The ultra-nationalist list’s 1.75% of the vote missed the then electoral threshold of 2% by about ten thousand votes. In the 2015 Elections the Yachad list led by former Shas leader Eli Yishai, former Bayit Yehudi MK Yoni Chetboun, who represented the more Chardal side of the party, and Kahanist Baruch Marzel received 125,158 votes. The 2.97% showing would have been good enough for three seats and change. Instead it fell underneath the new 3.25% electoral threshold.
There are various rumors and media reports that we might see an expanded far-right list in the next Israeli election that could include other groups such as the late Lithuanian Rabbi Aurbauch’s Etz Party, Moshe Feiglin’s new Zehut Party, and the Chardali Tekuma party that is currently affiliated with Bayit Yehudi. There is also a possibility of a Chabad candidate reaching a realistic spot in such a coalition. What all these parties have in common is that they all fall to the right of Naftali Bennett, who is currently leading what is considered by many as the most right-wing party in the Knesset.
There are data to suggest that a coalition of parties to the right of Bayit Yehudi may go further than just passing the threshold – it might receive a considerable number of seats. By appealing to a younger Sephardi Haredi audience with Yishai and a younger Chardali audience with Chetboun the far-right was able to double their numbers in just two years from 2013 to 2015. Expanding that to include additional groups should be enough to get that coalition over the electoral threshold next time.
Additionally, we are talking about a base that enjoys the fastest growing population in the country. A recent study on the “Fertility rates in Israel by religion and level of religiosity and their effect on public expenditure” was conducted by the Knesset’s Research and Information Center for the Knesset’s Appropriations Committee. Based on its findings, with seven new potential Haredi voters and four new potential national religious voters for every three new potential traditional voters and two new potential secular voters, the trend is quite clear.
The gains between the 2013 and the 2015 elections made by the far-right are quite impressive across the board and can be seen especially in the Haredi settlements. In Beitar Illit support grew from 5% to 14%. In Emanuel it went up from 14% to 32%. In Kochav Yaakov it went from 14% and third place to 32% and first place. In the 2015 Elections Yachad finished first place in settlements with large Chardali populations such as Nahliel, Yitzhar, Bat Ayin and Ma’ale Hever. The number of new voters in each of these settlements will be considerable before the next election.
Support also grew in the top-20 populated cities that also have large religious populations. Jerusalem increased from 3% to 7%. Bnei Brak went up from 1% to 5.5%. Bet Shemesh went from 3% to 7%. Additionally, there were impressive gains in the south such as Netivot where the numbers jumped from 2% to 19%. In Mitzpe Ramon it went up from 3% to 16%, and that is in a city where Shas only had 5% in the 2013 cycle. Other areas where there could be significant gains are in Kfar Chabad where it started at 54% and went up to 75%, Elad where it jumped from 3% to 14%, and Yad Binyamin where it went up from 13% to 40%.
All of the cities above are growing in population at a rapid pace, above the national average, and if additional right-wing splinter groups agree to run on a joint list we could see significant increases.
In our previous two joint installments on these pages we illustrated the trend of young Israeli voters moving to the right side of the map on issues ranging from security to religion and state. With the traditional religious parties of Shas and UTJ losing voting share among their youth, many among the younger religious population ranks are going to the edges of the right side of the map.
These are edges that can include racial hate, bigotry and threats of violence. There are many among this fringe that justify price tags and the impulses behind the work of Torat HaMelech and religiously justify the dehumanization of the other. Within these far-right circles, current Tekuma MK Bezalel Smotrich would be viewed as a moderate. His bemoaning the sharing of maternity wards with Arab citizens and doctors made headlines across the country just two years ago. While you cannot ascribe all of the potential voter bases these views; people’s preference for parties are for varied reasons, their votes may elect to the Knesset those who follow a racist ideology.
The changing demographics of the Jewish community in Israel will give rise to new blocs as the axis of right and left in Israel adapt around the changing demographic nature of the Knesset. It is yet to be seen how a stronger joint list of the far-right would play in the traditional right-religious bloc, but the next election could rewrite coalition politics as we know it. It is difficult to poll first time voters, yet when you look at the election results of the past two national elections, combined with the data of steady birthrates among the past twenty years, you can’t help but conclude that the far-right is coming.
Joel Braunold is the executive director of the Alliance for Middle East Peace. Jeremy Saltan is a municipal politician, Bayit Yehudi’s Anglo Forum chairman and one of Israel’s leading poll analysts.
All views presented are those of the individual authors.
There were many things that President Donald Trump’s declaration on Jerusalem was not. It was not the start of the apocalypse. It was not the start of a successful political peace strategy. Nor was it earth-shattering in terms of its actual practical effects.
So, what was it? It was an international humiliation for a Palestinian community that believed in negotiations. It was an abdication of the role of sole arbitration by the United States. And it was a reality check for everyone concerned.
The United States, at least for the next three years, will not be able to singlehandedly bring the parties back to the table. Of course, even before this, the reality was that even if negotiations had — by some miracle — restarted, few were confident that the societies or their respective leaders were ready for a credible process.
If the Jerusalem announcement has stopped the fake horizon of talks, what replaces it? What credibly fills the vacuum?
There are many who would like to use this moment to push a pressured or coercive approach — the idea that with more force the decision-making calculation will change and a different outcome will result. Given the extreme violence of the Second Intifada and the structural violence that the occupation brings daily, the evidence does not indicate that what we need is more force. If there were a coercive solution to this problem, it would have happened already.
Coercion is seductive, as it puts all the pressure on the party on the other side of the equation. Supporters of both Israel and Palestine can point to the pressure points they feel are most effective and motivate others to apply pressure there while ignoring the significant challenges within their own communities.
Ignoring the power of coercion within decision-making is a mistake, but so is fetishizing it. If this isn’t the moment for pressure, what is it the time for?
To confront the generational challenge, we need a long-term strategy.
Israeli and Palestinian young people truly mistrust one another. With limited or no interaction with one another, they rely on their media and leadership to inform them about their counterparts. The result has been anything but positive. Annual polls of Israelis and Palestinians show that large majorities believe that the opposing community harbors extreme exclusionist or genocidal views.
To confront the generational challenge that the conflict presents, we need a generational long-term strategy to re-engage the communities — something broader than traditional people-to-people programs. We need an agenda that considers how to create community resilience against violence and develop leaders to create constituencies for peace when a credible political process eventually occurs.
As the executive director of the Alliance for Middle East Peace, I have been pushing for the creation of a multilateral international fund for Israeli-Palestinian peace that can help answer the question, “What are we doing to make sure that the next generation does not hate one another?” The need has never been higher.
Beyond the fund, however, we need to move beyond the politics of demographics. For the past few years, more and more voices in the center and left of both Israel and the Jewish Diaspora have been pushing the politics of separation to make their case for peace now. The American-Jewish community funds shared-society programing in Israel while also paying for billboards that bemoan the demographic threat posed by the Arab community. That needs to stop.
This is not a moment for coercion but for laying a solid foundation.
One could make the spurious argument that you can use racism to motivate voters if you believe that peace is just a vote away. It is not. If we are in a generational struggle, then we need to tackle the educational challenges created through ethnic conflict, not exacerbate the worst fears of the populations.
The uncertainty of the moment should lead all of us to return to the basic values and principles that motivate and guide us. There are hundreds of opportunities to invest in values we can all stand behind, whether by investing in the bilingual communities of the Hand in Hand school network, working with youth across Jerusalem’s faith communities with Kids4Peace or supporting agricultural cooperatives with the Near East Foundation.
This is not a moment for coercion but for laying a solid foundation. We should support young people as they build communities that demonstrate that a different future is possible, one of collective humanity and mutual dependence. This is a generational struggle, but one that depends on people themselves rather than the geopolitical currents that are buffeting our global society.
Many in the pundit world are scoffing at Jared Kushner’s brief trip to the region to meet with President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu. Thinking that the administration is on a fool’s errand they have mocked them for their perceived naivety in wading into a perilous conflict.
They ridicule their lack of plan or progress and roll their eyes at the official readouts of the meetings with the leaders.
It’s important to remember that the President does not need to spend time or political capital doing this. Mr. Trump can make a difference in the lives of millions scarred by decades of conflict. It serves no one to mock him or his team in their efforts. Looking at the outcomes of the latest trip, Mr. Kushner and Greenblatt did not leave empty handed. In each official account there exists the same operative statement:
“The United States officials and (Israeli/Palestinian) Leadership underscored that forging peace will take time and stressed the importance of doing everything possible to create an environment conducive to peacemaking.”
Both parties agreed publically to do everything possible to create an environment conducive to peacemaking. Since the collapse of the previous rounds of talks, the effort of both leaderships has been to find reasons why the other is undermining the environment to peace building rather then trying to build such an environment themselves.
The Palestinians point to the creation of a new settlement deep in the West Bank and the continued growth of existing settlements. The Israelis point to the new dedication of a square in Jenin named for martyrs who killed Israeli civilians and the continuation of the incentives offered to those who attack Israelis through the martyrs fund.
Each claim to be held hostage by their political realities and the Americans get lost in the minute details trying to find wins amongst the ongoing wreckage.
Rather then going down the rabbit hole of previous efforts, the Trump administration should utilize the love for the President in Israel, and the curiosity of him in Palestine to find positive ways to lessen the incredulity of the average Israeli and Palestinian to the peace process itself. People simply don’t believe its possible, so there is no pressure on their leaderships to step outside of their comfort zone.
Belief is created through a change of facts on the ground and by shifting attitudes. The fault line in the land for peace formula is that each side gives the other what they don’t want. While Israel’s leaders have spoken about their desire for peace, no land has been transferred from Israeli to Palestinian control in the West Bank since before 2000. While the Palestinian security cooperation has lessened violence, a culture of peace has not followed in the way that many Israelis believe necessary for a true peace to come.
The US Administration managed to get the Israeli cabinet to agree to some transfers of area C to PA control, and should continue focusing on getting real wins for those on the ground who believe land for peace is just a mirage. Simultaneously, a process needs to start that goes further then just a tri-lateral committee against incitement, where each side goes to the referee if they believe they have been maligned. A culture of peace is something that both sides want, and know is essential if they are not to bequeath this conflict to their grandchildren.
In other successfully resolved conflicts success can be seen not just through the reduction of violence, but from how optimistic the younger generation are about their attitudes to the other. Despite the stereotypes of the Oslo years, there was never a serious attempt on the civic side of the peace building equation, for each people to get to know the other and build a different reality together. As the populations got younger, they have become more distant and more distrustful of each other.
If Mr. Kushner and Greenblatt are serious about getting the parties to yes they need to create the political space for the leadership to take risks. Creating positive facts on the ground while draining the swamp of hate should be the twin pillars of their strategy.
This appeared as the main print Op-Ed in the Jerusalem Post on May 9th 2017
With Jeremy Saltan
Despite the time, effort, and attention of the Obama administration, Israelis never trusted President Obama. No matter the level of security assistance, Israelis just did not like him and felt that he ignored public opinion. When trying to find a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, trust, fondness and respecting Israeli public opinion matters. Given the current global and regional security dynamic, Israel likely would have to take significant risks to agree to change the status quo. Any future final-status agreement would require that Israel reduce the access the IDF currently maintains within the West Bank/Judea & Samaria.
Israeli public opinion polling shows Israelis agree to make adjustments to the status-quo in three potential scenarios. A) If Israelis believe their security will increase after a deal is made because the threat emanating from the Palestinians will decrease. B) If Israelis believe they could place themselves in a worse position by saying no to a potential deal. C) If Israelis believe they will be more secure because there is an opportunity to enjoy a security pact with a world superpower. This requires a peacemaker they like and trust.
Israelis do not believe that a deal with the Palestinians will make them safer, and public opinion is trending downward. The latest poll conducted by Professor Mina Tzemech for the Jerusalem Center on Public Affairs found that support for the Clinton Parameters is the lowest on record with only 29% supporting. That number drops to 18% if the deal does not include full Israeli security control of the West Bank/Judea & Samaria. It becomes even more complicated with the non-security-based elements of the Clinton Parameters as just 10% of Israelis support the transfer of the Temple Mount to Palestinian sovereignty.
While support for the Clinton parameters is at a historic low, desire for American involvement has increased strongly under President Trump. Israelis were asked if they could rely more on a settlement with the Palestinians under President Obama or under President Trump. 54.3% of Israelis responded they would rely more on President Trump’s involvement compared to 16.3% who responded Obama. A great majority of Israelis, 74%, answered that it is important the Americans are involved in any agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
While Israelis clearly trust President Trump more than his predecessor his word is not enough. He will need to take action. His word only brings 31% to support a withdrawal from the West Bank/Judea & Samaria. However, if a final-status deal came with a guaranteed security pact with the United States, 51% of Israelis would agree to the Clinton Parameters. With his current approval ratings in Israel a narrow majority of Israelis believe that under President Trump a US security pact is strong enough to overcome their security fears of what a final-status agreement would require.
President Trump clearly has the political capital needed to make major progress towards the ultimate deal that he desires. He is in a better position than his predecessors. His unpredictable style also makes the 60% of Israelis who believe that the US-Israel special relationship is central to Israel’s security wonder what the President who is chasing the ultimate deal would do if Israel is the one who says no.
Starting from this strong position, President Trump’s trip to Israel is a key opportunity to increase his political capital so he can move closer to his goal. In addition to meeting politicians he needs to bring his case to the Israeli people with an approach that takes their public opinion into account. Prime Minister Netanyahu learned from his defeat in 1999 what it means to have a difficult relationship with a popular US president in the eyes of the Israeli public. President Trump’s challenge will be to show the Israeli people that they have placed their trust in someone who will not abandon them without cause and lives up to his commitments. In addition President Trump needs to show the Palestinians that he can move the ball meaningfully forward in a way that changes their day-to-day reality. Undoubtedly, this will be a difficult act to pull off.
Hope is a scarce commodity among the communities that have experienced failure for decades. Only 10.1% of Palestinians and 24.8% of Israelis expected President Trump to try his hand at restarting negotiations according to the latest joint polling. Given that few believed President Trump would attempt this so early, if at all, he suffers from none of the high expectations that followed President Obama into office. While it would gall many on the left that it could be President Trump who makes the ‘ultimate deal’, it would be a grave mistake and counterproductive for them to mock his efforts.
Despite the lowered expectations, no one should doubt President Trump’s commitment given he has chosen to visit both the Israelis and the Palestinians as part of his first international trip. When President Trump arrives in the region his mission will be to show that he has Israel’s back and that an eventual deal between Israeli and Palestinian people is possible. The data show he starts in a far stronger position than those who came before him. It is in the interest of everyone that we wish the President of the United States of America the best of luck.