The Toddler's Approach to Middle East Peace

In talking about the promised US Middle East peace plan, President Trump is saying there will be something for each side to like while Nikky Haley points out that each side will have something to dislike. The real question, however, is whether either side can survive the plan. 

Netanyahu is hanging on by his fingernails to the Prime Ministership so long as he can keep his coalition together. It is a coalition that, in its minority, is beholden to extreme settlers.  Meanwhile our Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, thinks that backing away from the settlers by forcing evacuation of any of the settlements could trigger a civil war in Israel.  According to the Jerusalem Post, Friedman's speculation may have merit given "the increasing number of national-religious officers who hold command positions in the IDF".  Bibi may have some room to improve conditions in Gaza and the West Bank, but not if it means putting distance between himself and the land of historic Israel under the Kingdom of David.

Abbas, meanwhile, is hanging on to his life by a thread based on his promise to build a better Palestinian future and his assurances to his residents and his diaspora that he will not sell out the Palestinian birthright.  He can continue the critical security cooperation with Israel so long as he keeps the myth of historic Palestine alive.

So, in come Greenblatt and Kushner with a plan, which has remained a state secret, with no effort to prepare the ground of popular opinion for compromise.  One would have thought that by now we would have developed some appreciation of the force of popular opinion in Middle Eastern states. At least we should have learned that a relatively small number of "true believers" can overturn the best laid plans of well-meaning negotiators. I have been in too many negotiations where a single act of terrorism has unraveled potential progress in a negotiation.  What makes this situation different?

I have been through the autonomy negotiations. I helped draft the Reagan plan.  And I had to run the gamut of Arab leaders to explain why Camp David II was not the end of the world or of negotiations. Grand plans may make good game show ratings, but incremental steps make lives better.

I wish this US administration well.  Certainly, we had our chances in the past. But it is not a weakness to learn from the past.  And one thing we would do well to absorb is the Doctor's oath, one of the premises of which is “first, do no harm.”  Let us not force Prime Minister Netanyahu to take steps to protect his right-wing base that the Palestinians could never agree to and would be impossible to unravel.  And let's not force President Abbas to walk away from security cooperation with Israel to protect his fragile position.  The Middle East is a China Shop - we should not be the bull.

Perhaps we should invest in the "toddler's approach." One step at a time, and if we survive that one, then take the next, and all the while, do our best not to fall on our face.




Ned Walker