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.
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.
My Opening Remarks
Me on incitement and a culture of peace
Me on the Trump Administration and normalization
As with any insider view, Michael Herzog’s eye opening account of what happened during the last round of Israeli Palestinian negotiations contains fascinating details.
There is a confirmed backchannel of Dennis Ross, Isaac Molho and Hussein Agha. We learn of what turned out to be a confusing shuttle diplomacy strategy by the Americans. The timeline of the collapse is clarified and the internal discussions of the Israeli side are revealed in greater depth.
As commentators and analysts go through the details, deducing lessons for future efforts, much attention will be paid to the mistakes in process and the reality of the gaps in the positions.
In the zone of possible agreement section, Herzog gives the readers a glimpse of where the parties were on key issues. Much was already suspected. He goes through the question of Jewish State, something that Kerry would later publicly pick up in his last speech on the issue, telling the world that there had been progress made on a regional level on this issue. He details the security work that General Allen’s team undertook, something that the Commanders for Israel’s Security and the Center for a New American Security later spelled out in greater detail. The refugee question got updated to include the plight of Jews from Arab lands (though the conversations were never concluded) and Jerusalem was punted.
All of this was pretty much suspected if not known by the end of the Obama administration. Yet Herzog finishes his account of the possible agreement with a surprising final line.
“Finally, a new section initiated by Tzipi Livni on the “Culture of Peace” was introduced.”
Herzog offers no analysis or explanation but a footnote to an interview that Livni held with David Horowitz, the editor of the Times of Israel, in September 2014.
Towards the end of the interview Livni revealed that there was agreed text of what a culture of peace should look like. Below is the full part of the interview.
That’s not my point. What I’m asking is why you haven’t focused on the centrality of the need to put an end to the incitement against Israel, and to create a more honest narrative?
You’re wrong. I suggested at the start of the negotiations (in 2013) that we finalize the clause relating to the so-called “Culture of Peace” in the future agreement. First of all, implementing that clause need not wait for a full agreement. Let me see if I can find you the text. (Livni searches in her i-Pad.) It has been a while. I’m not talking here about the bilateral committees on incitement, where each side ran to complain about the other. This is something (we worked on) with Abu Mazen, which did not get implemented but which I really think has to be done.
We also need to look at ourselves. I’m Israeli. I want to protect Israel. That’s my chief interest. But to say that our texts…
… and our maps that don’t show the West Bank. No, we’re not perfect.
Or describing the Palestinians as “shrapnel in the butt” (a reference to Economy Minister Naftali Bennett’s likening of the Palestinian conflict last year to shrapnel in the rear end — DH).
So, I’m very much in favor of the Palestinians being okay, but we should be too. And one doesn’t contradict the other. Both sides have to be okay. (Livni finds a document and shows it to me on her i-Pad.) This was a text on civil society and the culture of peace. It was meant to be part of any agreement. Here we set out…
Can I have a copy of this?
No, there’s a limit. (She laughs.) But you can look. You can see there are clauses against “supporting incitement.” A whole section… (The section of the document Livni shows me deals with preventing racism and discrimination, and features language highlighting the imperative to “promote mutual understanding, tolerance and respect.”)
If you implement steps like these, it might be gradually possible to help create a different atmosphere.
I wanted to do it simultaneously. Not to halt everything. I thought it could be implemented. That didn’t happen.
Again, surely he should have an interest in implementing this.
Who do you mean by “he”?
The leader you’re not representing in this interview.
(Livni laughs.) And you’re assuming that he’s the one who refused? Look, it didn’t happen. You know what, it didn’t happen. We immediately also got into the core issues. I suggested it to the Americans.
This “Culture of Peace” proposal also included clauses relating to incitement by religious leaders, media…?
Everything. Everything. Actually, I think we had an agreed text. I’ll check again. Had we extended the talks (last spring), I think we were going to implement it during the extended negotiations. But we didn’t reach an agreement to extend the negotiations.
I think it’s something that should be implemented anyway. I’m telling you, I suggested it at the very beginning.”
One of the challenges of the negotiations between Israel and the PLO has always been that ‘nothing is agreed upon until everything is agreed upon’. The linkage means that incremental process is invalidated unless a final deal is achieved. This keeps key concessions locked away until every part of the deal is worked out so it can be sold to both populations as a package deal.
Yet the problems that a deal will solve metastasize in its absence, making compromises harder and harder to reach. The most obvious and well known is that of settlements. The longer there is no agreement on borders the more that settlements grow, making it harder to generate the political will to pull back by creating new facts on the ground.
While the settlements are a physical manifestation of a barrier to progress, no less significant is the fear, mistrust and hate that the conflict has generated between the populations. While the power balance between Israelis and Palestinians is asymmetric, the mistrust and fear is equal. If political will is needed to open the space to get to an agreement between the parties, then the agreement of creating a culture of peace cannot wait until a full agreement is signed. It is needed as a necessary precondition.
Livni in her interview recognizes this, stating that this clause should be implemented anyway.
With the collapse of the negotiations, the Quartet report of July 2016 became the next key document to lay out a way forward. The final recommendation of the report requested that,
“Both parties should foster a climate of tolerance, including through increasing interaction and cooperation in a variety of fields – economic, professional, educational, cultural – that strengthen the foundations for peace and countering extremism.”
Since then legislators in the US and UK have advanced a concept of an International Fund for Israeli Palestinian Peace, whose aim would be to actualize a strategic, scalable attempt to create a culture of peace through dedicated funding. It is based off the successful International Fund for Ireland. Later this month the United States Institute of Peace is holding a half-day conference on the lessons that can be learnt between the two funds. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who oversaw the Good Friday agreement and was the Quartet representative for many years, has endorsed this idea.
What these efforts toward the fund realize is that one of the consequences from previous failures has been an incredulity gap that now exists between the two peoples. If this cannot be bridged, Israelis and Palestinians will continue to drift further apart, making any deal politically impossible for the parties to sign. The ‘culture of peace’ work is needed to ensure that the populations move their leaders closer together, rather than drive them further apart.
With the revelation that there is agreed upon text out there, it should be released and form the basis for the proposed fund to sit upon. While borders, Jerusalem, security, refugees and the other final status suffer from a linkage that makes them rise and fall together, it is never too early to start the excruciating, necessary work of trying to break the barriers of mistrust and hate. While a culture of peace cannot survive in the absence of a political horizon, a political horizon cannot be created without a population who believes that peace is possible.