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.

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

The Danger of Hollow Fixes to the Iran Deal

March 20 2018

In January, the Trump administration announced a 120-day deadline for the so-called “E3”—Britain, France, and Germany—to agree to solutions for certain specific flaws in the 2015 agreement to limit the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. Omri Ceren explains why it’s necessary to get these fixes right:

[Already in October], the administration made clear that it considered the deal fatally flawed for at least three reasons: a weak inspections regime in which the UN’s nuclear watchdog can’t access Iranian military facilities, an unacceptable arrangement whereby the U.S. had to give up its most powerful sanctions against ballistic missiles even as Iran was allowed to develop ballistic missiles, and the fact that the deal’s eventual expiration dates mean Iran will legally be allowed to get within a hair’s breadth of a nuclear weapon. . . .

A team of American negotiators has been working on getting the E3 to agree to a range of fixes, and is testing whether there is overlap between the maximum that the Europeans can give and the minimum that President Trump will accept. The Europeans in turn are testing the Iranians to gauge their reactions and will likely not accept any fixes that would cause Iran to bolt.

The negotiations are problematic. The New York Times reported that, as far as the Europeans are concerned, the exercise requires convincing Trump they’ve “changed the deal without actually changing it.” Public reports about the inspection fix suggest that the Europeans are loath to go beyond urging the International Atomic Energy Commission to request inspections, which the agency may be too intimidated to do. The ballistic-missile fix is shaping up to be a political disaster, with the Europeans refusing to incorporate anything but long-range missiles in the deal. That would leave us with inadequate tools to counter Iran’s development of ballistic missiles that could be used to wipe Israel, the Saudis, and U.S. regional bases off the map. . . .

There is a [significant] risk the Trump administration may be pushed to accept the hollow fixes acceptable to the Europeans. Fixing the deal in this way would be the worst of all worlds. It would functionally enshrine the deal under a Republican administration. Iran would be open for business, and this time there would be certainty that a future president will not act to reverse the inevitable gold rush. Just as no deal would have been better than a bad deal, so no fix would be better than a bad fix.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Donald Trump, Europe, Iran, Politics & Current Affairs, U.S. Foreign policy