Instead of Another Failed Peace Process, Washington Should Focus on Palestinian Reform

Feb. 20 2018

The Trump administration has stated its intention to restart negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Ghaith al-Omari, testifying before the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, argues that the time is anything but ripe for such a sweeping initiative. Instead, he urges the U.S. to focus on more immediate and achievable goals, such as making the Palestinian Authority (PA) less corrupt and more democratic:

Although a U.S.-brokered plan to prompt negotiations and bridge differences ultimately has value, in practice any plan presented in the short term is likely to fail due to the domestic politics of both Israel and the PA. Prime Minister Netanyahu presides over a coalition that gives him an extremely narrow margin in which to maneuver. . . . On the Palestinian side, Abbas’s margin for maneuvering is also extremely limited. Failure of the peace process, corruption, and poor governance combined have severely eroded the PA’s legitimacy among its public. . . . Add to that the split between the West Bank and Gaza, and the hardening of positions in the wake of the Jerusalem decision, [and the result is that] Abbas currently lacks the political credit needed to be able to engage with a peace plan that requires significant compromise. . . .

Among both the Palestinian and Israeli publics, belief in peace is eroding, and another failed peace initiative will only solidify such skepticism. Among the Palestinians, given the tension and volatility on the ground and the weakness of the PA, another failed peace initiative could lead to an array of concrete negative results ranging from a sharp deterioration in the security situation to a potential collapse of the PA. Needless to say, severe disruption on the ground is not in the interest of the Palestinians, Israel, the region, or the United States. . . .

[Above all], the United States should refocus on promoting Palestinian reform. Besides the desirability, in its own right, of creating clean, effective governance in the PA, the widespread perception of corruption in the PA and general dissatisfaction with its performance has implications for the peace process. It erodes the legitimacy of Palestinian leaders, reducing their ability to reengage in negotiations, let alone make the necessary compromises for peace.

As demonstrated under President George W. Bush, sustained U.S. prioritization of Palestinian reform can produce dramatic results that increase the PA’s legitimacy among its public and Israel’s trust of the PA as a peace partner. In addition to direct U.S. engagement on the issue, the administration should explore a role for Arab states in Palestinian reform, especially roles in which some—like the UAE and Jordan—have developed significant capacity as they have undertaken their own processes of reform and institution-building.

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Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Donald Trump, George W. Bush, Israel & Zionism, Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Authority, U.S. Foreign policy

Syria’s Downing of a Russian Plane Put Israel in the Crosshairs

Sept. 21 2018

On Monday, Israeli jets fired missiles at an Iranian munitions storehouse in the northwestern Syrian city of Latakia. Shortly thereafter, Syrian personnel shot down a Russian surveillance plane with surface-to-air missiles, in what seems to be a botched and highly incompetent response to the Israeli attack. Moscow first responded by blaming Jerusalem for the incident, but President Putin then offered more conciliatory statements. Yesterday, Russian diplomats again stated that Israel was at fault. Yoav Limor comments:

What was unusual [about the Israeli] strike was the location: Latakia [is] close to Russian forces, in an area where the IDF hasn’t been active for some time. The strike itself was routine; the IDF notified the Russian military about it in advance, the missiles were fired remotely, the Israeli F-16s returned to base unharmed, and as usual, Syrian antiaircraft missiles were fired indiscriminately in every direction, long after the strike itself was over. . . .

Theoretically, this is a matter between Russia and Syria. Russia supplied Syria with the SA-5 [missile] batteries that wound up shooting down its plane, and now it must demand explanations from Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. That won’t happen; Russia was quick to blame Israel for knocking over the first domino, and as usual, sent conflicting messages that make it hard to parse its future strategy. . . .

From now on, Russia will [almost certainly] demand a higher level of coordination with Israel and limits on the areas in which Israel can attack, and possibly a commitment to refrain from certain actions. Syria, Iran, and Hizballah will try to drag Russia into “handling” Israel and keeping it from continuing to carry out strikes in the region. Israel . . . will blame Iran, Hizballah, and Syria for the incident, and say they are responsible for the mess.

But Israel needs to take rapid action to minimize damage. It is in Israel’s strategic interest to keep up its offensive actions to the north, mainly in Syria. If that action is curtailed, Israel’s national security will be compromised. . . . No one in Israel, and certainly not in the IDF or the Israel Air Force, wants Russia—which until now hasn’t cared much about Israel’s actions—to turn hostile, and Israel needs to do everything to prevent that from happening. Even if that means limiting its actions for the time being. . . . Still, make no mistake: Russia is angry and has to explain its actions to its people. Israel will need to walk a thin line between protecting its own security interests and avoiding a very unwanted clash with Russia.

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Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Russia, Syrian civil war