Middle East peace cannot be imposed by outsiders

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Middle East peace cannot be imposed by outsiders

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Jason Greenblatt has announced he is returning to private industry. (Reuters)

Whether they realize it or not, the White House team tasked with promoting an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan has called it quits. That’s not a bad thing. Here’s some explanation.

Jason Greenblatt, an assistant to the president and special representative for international negotiations in President Donald Trump’s administration, has announced he is returning to private industry. Greenblatt’s titles were lengthy, but his main responsibility has been overseeing the White House’s plan for a peace deal between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority (PA). In this effort, he worked closely with Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner.

For almost half a year, Greenblatt and Kushner have claimed this mysterious peace plan has been complete, but it has been delayed by one event after another. At one point, they wanted to wait until after the Israeli election this past spring. However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not able to form a coalition, so there is a new election scheduled for the middle of September. The peace plan was also delayed by Jewish and Israeli holidays in the spring and then Ramadan in May. A few weeks after Ramadan, before the slow summer season, Kushner hosted an odd “Peace to Prosperity” conference in Bahrain that brought together many important business and political figures in the Middle East to discuss broad ideas, but he still refused to share his plan.

Now, the team at the White House has indicated it will release the plan shortly after the Sept. 17 election in Israel. Even if they do release it then, Greenblatt will no longer be around to promote it. Moreover, almost a month of major Jewish holidays start on Sept. 29, so little, if any, progress will happen until the very end of October. Less than two months later is the start of the Christmas season, which hampers any progress in the US as well as in part of Israel and in Palestinian towns like Ramallah, where the PA is headquartered.

By January, the American election season will have officially started for 2020. The Trump administration is very unlikely to actively pursue something as complicated and fraught with political danger as a Middle East peace plan during the presidential election campaign. The two relevant parties — the Israelis and Palestinians — are unlikely to listen to the administration while Trump’s political future is uncertain ahead of the election. Moreover, there is no reason for Trump to take political risks during the election season on an issue that is not of paramount concern to the American people.

It is not clear if Kushner or the others on his team realize it yet, but this deal is dead for now. It was dead before it ever got started. From the start, the hidden plan was a concoction written by people sitting comfortably in the White House, almost 10,000 kilometers away from the conflict. It was intended to be implemented by foreigners who were not party to the dispute. The men and women who crafted this document in Washington did not fight through the decades of war. They did not suffer and cry. Therefore, it should not be for them to make the peace.

Peace cannot be imposed by outsiders. The best example from modern history is that of the Middle East after the First World War. Many of the boundaries and, ultimately, much of the political leadership were determined by European powers. This exacerbated political instability in places like Iraq, where we still see the reverberations of foreign influence 100 years ago.

To be sure, peace is the desired outcome. Israel is an existing country and its sovereignty must be recognized and accepted. As Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told The Atlantic magazine in 2018: “I believe the Israelis have a right to have their own land.” Palestinians must have a political future and self-determination. A people cannot go stateless for too long. Hopefully, the Palestinians will eventually be able to have a democracy to form their own future. Mahmoud Abbas was elected for a four-year term in 2005, but continues to run the PA today. Hamas, which runs Gaza, terrorizes its own people like it terrorizes Israel.

From the start, the hidden plan was a concoction written by people sitting comfortably in the White House, almost 10,000 kilometers away from the conflict.

Ellen R. Wald

We do not know why Greenblatt is leaving the government before the White House peace plan has even been revealed, but this news increases the doubts surrounding the plan. Now, Kushner’s 30-year-old protege is set to take Greenblatt’s position. It makes one wonder if no one else wanted the job.

The best thing for peace would be to scrap the secret plan and return to a goal of negotiations. Peace may not come today or tomorrow. But when it does come, someday, it will be made by Israelis and Palestinians — not foreigners an ocean away.

  • Ellen R. Wald, Ph.D. is a historian and author of “Saudi, Inc.” She is the president of Transversal Consulting and also teaches Middle East history and policy at Jacksonville University. Twitter: @EnergzdEconomy
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