The Trump administration’s Middle East policy is developing, and most recently a key adviser to the President, Jason Greenblatt, visited Jerusalem and Ramallah.
The full content of his talks with Israeli and Palestinian officials is secret, as it should be. Still, it is clear that the President would like to move the parties forward toward a peace agreement. According to various press reports there was a good discussion of how Israeli settlement activities might be limited, and of steps that might be taken to improve the Palestinian economy.
These are important subjects to cover, but there is another one that simply must be on the table (and perhaps it was). The list of subjects must include with what the Palestinians will give, not just what they will receive.
Prof. Efraim Inbar, founding director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, put it this way in a critical commentary on Mr. Greenblatt’s visit:
He stressed how important it was to President Trump to stimulate the Palestinian economy and improve the quality of life for Palestinians. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu assured Greenblatt that he is fully committed to broadening prosperity for the Palestinians and sees it as a means of bolstering the prospects for peace. According to the press release, the two discussed concrete measures that could support and advance Palestinian economic development.
It is odd to offer carrots to the Palestinians before they have committed to returning to the negotiations table they left in March 2014. The impulse to give out carrots displays the conventional wisdom of the international community (including Jerusalem): that the Palestinians must be well fed to prevent their erupting into violence. This attitude has led to continuous financial support to the PA despite the growing awareness that a large proportion of that aid is channeled to terrorists and their families.
Short-term calculations of this kind only prolong the conflict. Indeed, the campaign of terror that started in September 2000, dubbed the Second Intifada, took place after several years of economic progress during which the Palestinian standard of living was the highest in history. The many carrots provided did not overcome the Palestinians’ appetite for political achievements; nor did it channel their energies from terror to the negotiating table.
The channeling of aid to terrorists and their families to which Prof. Inbar refers is the payment to convicted terrorists by the PLO. Congress is increasingly hostile to continuing American aid while that continues, and already the UK has stopped giving any cash to the Palestinians for this reason.
There is also the matter of “incitement,” meaning statements and actions by the Palestinian Authority (PA) that glorify terror and demonize Israel and Jews. In the last few decades, under presidents of both parties, the United States has said this must stop but has never penalized the PA when it did not.
To repeat, Trump policy is just taking shape and we do not know what forms of pressure were or will be put on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. But what we do know for sure is that, as Prof. Inbar says, it would be a mistake to give the PA and PLO concessions in return for nothing and then hope for the best. It would be a mistake to reward Abbas merely for returning to negotiations he should never have left and that are not a favor to the United States or to Israel. As Trump policy develops, let’s hope it treats the Palestinians as political actors (not objects of charity) with the power to make consequential decisions. And wrong decisions should have consequences, as should correct ones.