WASHINGTON — President Trump ended his visit to the Middle East, saying peace between Israelis and Palestinians is possible and promising “to do everything I can” to bring it about.
U.S. presidents have tried and failed for decades to fashion an agreement to end the conflict that has persisted since Israel was founded in 1948, including calls for a two-state solution. The goal of creating an independent Palestinian state existing peacefully alongside Israel has been embraced by past Democratic and and Republican administrations and the United Nations.
But the path for peace has been marred by terrorism, wars and a growing Israeli presence in areas Palestinians want for a homeland.
Here are some options for getting both sides to the negotiating table, including some that Trump hopes would sweeten the deal:
Settlements — Israel could signal a willingness to deal with Palestinians by freezing settlement construction, a demand for years by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas.
Prior to Trump’s visit, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Israel would stop expanding the footprint of Israeli communities on land Palestinians want for a future state. The decision still allows for construction that adds to the density of existing buildings and allows for the Jewish population in those areas.
“I think the Palestinians and Arab states would demand further concessions on settlements from (Netanyahu) beyond this initiative,” said Aaron David Miller, a former U.S. peace negotiator and Middle East adviser to Democratic and Republican presidents who is now at the Wilson Center in Washington.
Seriously curtailing Jewish construction in the West Bank, however, would risk Netanyahu’s support from Israel’s right-wing voters. “His coalition might collapse,” said Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights.
Palestinian support for relatives of terrorists — Abbas could signal a willingness to compromise by accepting an Israeli demand that he end payments to families of convicted terrorists in Israeli prisons and to relatives of people killed while carrying out attacks against Israelis.
The Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the West Bank, considers the payments salaries or social welfare. Ending the payments could hurt Abbas politically, said Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
Unify against Iran — A major theme of Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia and Israel was a pledge to work more closely with countries in the region to roll back Iran’s aggression in Syria, Yemen and Iraq.
That could help the peace process, because it would provide Israel and Arab states with greater security, and the Arabs could offer Israel economic incentives and push the Palestinians to the negotiating table, Schanzer said.
New leadership — Some analysts say new Palestinian or Israeli leadership might be needed before peace talks can happen.
Gaza and its 1.8 million residents is controlled by the militant group Hamas, which “is a huge obstacle to peace,” as is Abbas’ legitimacy as president of the Palestinian Authority, 12 years into what’s supposed to be a five-year term, Schanzer said.
Miller said Israel’s Netanyahu does not see his legacy as the leader who would divide Jerusalem or give back territory.
The Trump factor — Trump’s unconventional approach to politics and deal-making may go a long way to get talks going, some analysts said.
“In the end, these countries are looking for American leadership” before they take a leap toward peace, said Hussein Ibish, a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. “You’re asking them to take a big risk, and they would do it if they had confidence of what’s on the other side.”
Israeli leaders “are clearly in love with him,” Munayyer said. And Palestinians listening to Trump in Jerusalem heard none of his campaign promises that had worried them, he added. There was no talk about Israeli settlements or moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move that would be provocative since both Israel and Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital.
Source: USA Today