Biden can make Trump’s Middle East peace plan work
In response to the attacks, the Israeli army carried out almost daily incursions into Palestinian hotspots in the West Bank. More than 80 Palestinians were killed in the resulting firefights. Some of them, acknowledged Israel’s internal security chief Ronen Bar, are innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire.
The new wave of activists, largely inspired by Palestinian social media, is too young to remember the bitter fruits of the Palestinian uprising against Israel in the early 2000s. Bar calls them “a generation of sheep without shepherds.”
This is not a bad description of the Israeli government or the Palestinian Authority. On November 1, a bitterly divided Israel will vote for the fifth time in three and a half years. According to the latest polls, this election, like previous ones, will end in a tie and the creation of a weak coalition, unable to do more than fend for itself and kick the West Bank.
Meanwhile, 87-year-old Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas was elected to what was supposed to be a four-year term in 2005 and is still in office. Under his leadership, the Palestinians split into rival factions in Gaza and the West Bank. Abbas’ eventual departure will almost certainly precipitate a bloody succession battle. Some Israeli experts believe that the Palestinian Authority will not survive such a struggle.
The situation in the West Bank has not reached the proportions of an intifada, but it could.
“It’s important for us not to lose sight of what could happen if the Palestinian situation gets worse, especially in the West Bank,” US Ambassador Tom Nides said recently. “I fundamentally believe that for Israel to remain a democratic state, we need a two-state solution. I want to change the situation on the ground to make that possible, to keep that vision alive.
The two-state solution is less a vision than a mantra. After more than 40 years, it’s still an unfulfilled New Year’s resolution. The Arab world has lost patience with the ideal of a Palestinian state. Europe is too caught up in its own existential problems to offer more than the occasional soundbite of two states. And the United States, the only country with real influence in the region, has so far remained at a distance.
It’s hard to blame President Joe Biden for his caution. It has seen President Donald Trump’s administration squander four years of active diplomacy trying to strike a deal in the West Bank. This offer included 70% of the West Bank for an unarmed Palestinian mini-state and massive foreign investment. Abbas categorically refused. Biden can’t offer more. Israel – regardless of the weak government in place – would almost certainly refuse to follow.
And yet, the United States must get involved. A revamped version of the Trump plan, under a different name, might at least get people talking again. An injection of American aid could appease the Palestinians and strengthen the Palestinian Authority’s efforts to maintain order in the West Bank. This, in turn, could relieve Israel of the need for aggressive military operations.
These are palliative measures, of course. But they are better than the alternative. Left to their own devices, Israel’s irresponsible political leaders, the headstrong Palestinian Authority president and the young warriors of the West Bank could drift like sheep into a conflict that could inflame the Middle East. And, for better or for worse, the United States is the only shepherd available.
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This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Editorial Board or of Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Zev Chafets is a journalist and author of 14 books. He was a top aide to Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and the founding editor of the Jerusalem Report Magazine.
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