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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