Trump was in a position to use the considerable power and influence of the U.S. to advance significantly a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Enough is going on in the region — Syria, a tragic war in Yemen, Lebanon balanced between Iranian-backed Hezbollah and Saudi Arabia, the spreading Russian influence — to avoid setting off a new fire storm in the Middle East. The spotlight has been off Israel as the troublemaker/scapegoat and this has been a welcome relief.
Israel has not only stayed out of the box of the accused but the Lebanese prime minister, in an interview this week with Paris Match, gave Israel carte blanche to attack Hezbollah and Iranian military positions outside Lebanon.
With this as background, the Trump announcement to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem sent shock waves. No one anticipated that the president would actually go through with the move.
This is because until this week the noise created around the embassy issue appeared to many informed diplomats and international analysts as an astute tactical maneuver to obtain significant tradeoffs in current negotiations. Even those in general opposed to many of the policies of the Trump presidency were privately praising what they had perceived was to be the president’s strategy. He was to use what he vaunts as his negotiating skills to trade the postponement of the move, that many in the region and also Europe consider as incendiary, as a way to achieve considerable progress in the negotiating process.
The tradeoff would have been to gain the support of important Arab countries to deliver the message to the Palestinian Authority that their aspiration to establish the Palestinian nation cannot be held hostage to their obtaining all their demands on return refugees to Israel, final borders, removal of colonies. In short an understanding that there would be public and also behind-the-scene pressure for the Palestinians to reinforce cooperation and build confidence with Israel to create real progress on the ground, affording Palestinians greater autonomy and improved economic and social conditions.
Furthermore the temporary postponement of the Jerusalem move could have been used as leverage to motivate the European Union and especially France, a country that in the past refused to support the Camp David agreements, to exchange their often unconditional support of Palestinian demands in favor of a balanced foreign policy where Israel would not be targeted as the cause of all Palestinian problems. Europeans could have been persuaded to share with the United States opposition to UN resolutions that isolate Israel and refuse any Palestinian responsibility for the stalemate in the peace process.
With this change in political and diplomatic environment, Palestinians would have been encouraged to leave aside their unilateral and dangerous attempt to receive international recognition for their State and instead place their efforts on economic development, and more full control of their investments, resources, imports and exports, health services, and infrastructure development including transportation. Instead of lamenting and placing blame for the failure to resolve outstanding political issues, emphasis would be on giving Palestinians a better life. European countries only exist with defined boundaries following the passage of time, not years or decades, but centuries. To expect all problems to be resolved before real progress is made on the ground is to succumb to the blackmail of an all or nothing negotiating position.
Palestine is victim of its own superstar victim status, scapegoat for decades of autocratic rule in Arab States and internal political divisions where politics has taken precedence over improving the Palestinian condition.
But what might have been a positive new start to better Israeli-Palestinian relations, especially considering that the Palestinians in light of widespread conflicts in the region have difficulty claiming their special victim status, risks now turning the Israeli-Palestinian issue into a new hot trouble spot that will be a lightening rod for all the frustrations of failure throughout the region.
The message that might have been positive will now be more difficult to deliver because world capitals will embrace the focus on the Jerusalem move as destructive to peace.
The symbolic once again will displace any consideration of the well being of real people.
What could have been hope is turning fast to despair and more importantly is throwing an additional weight on a world already teetering on expanding violence and war.
Of course Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish State, but what positive can come from saying what the millions of Muslims know but don’t want to admit? We can’t say everything is at risk but we can say that risking one more flare up in the world is too high a price to pay.
Mark L. Cohen has his own legal practice, and was counsel at White & Case starting in 2001, after serving as international lawyer and senior legal consultant for the French aluminum producer Pechiney. Cohen was a senior consultant at a Ford Foundation Commission, an advisor to the PBS television program "The Advocates," and Assistant Attorney General in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He teaches U.S. history at the business school in Lille l’EDHEC. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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