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A Useful Mideast Peace Plan? Don’t Hold Your Breath


Nikki Haley in Israel, June 2017. The American envoy to the United Nations has failed to acknowledge, the author says, that a US-led peace plan for the Israelis and the Palestinians will not offer much to the latter. US EMBASSY/TEL AVIV

Nikki Haley is appealing to the Palestinian people for “negotiation and compromise” in search of Middle East peace, denying that Washington is biased against them even as she warns their leaders that holding out will “lead to nothing but hardship.”

But the latest pitch for Palestinian engagement by Haley, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, fails to acknowledge that any US-led peace initiative will surely offer the Palestinians little if anything in exchange for their participation.

What might be in it for them? The White House officials charged with drafting a path to peace have had lifelong family, business and political ties to Israel. President Trump recently slashed US aid to Palestinian refugees while regularly displaying unconditional love for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The US president is “the greatest friend that Israel has ever had in the White House,” US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman told a conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) in Washington in early March.

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Clearly, Haley’s insistence that Washington can be an honest broker in this situation is disingenuous at best.

The ambassador, channeling Trump at a Feb. 20 meeting of the Security Council, snarled that snubbing the Trump administration “will get the Palestinian people exactly nowhere toward the achievement of their aspirations.” At the same time, jumping into the game “holds great potential for improving the lives of the Palestinian people,” she said.

And the less UN involvement in the process, the better, since that organization is “grossly biased” against Israel, she insists, maintaining that the international organization where Haley holds her day job spends so much time lionizing the Palestinians and criticizing Israel that it neglects other more pressing Middle East crises like Iran.

“On the battlefield, Israel does not get bullied. The Iranians and Syrians can vouch for that. But the UN is a different story. At the UN and throughout the UN agencies, Israel does get bullied,” she told the Aipac conference.

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So what kind of a deal is she really talking about? When she talks about “improving the lives” of Palestinians, Haley seems to rule out such aspirations as ending Israeli occupation, freezing Israeli settlements or forming a Palestinian nation — never mind identifying a new capital for a theoretical Palestine. When the Trump administration hinted there might still be room for a Palestinian capital in some obscure corner of Jerusalem, Israeli officials quickly asserted that Jerusalem was not only their eternal capital but must also be “undivided.”

As a diplomat, one might expect Haley to at least put on a show of trying to appear eager to work with the Palestinians. Instead, she scolds them for, among other things, clinging to the possibility that they could reverse Trump’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem.

“You don’t have to like that decision. You don’t have to praise it. You don’t even have to accept it. But know this: that decision will not change,” she lectured the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, during the Feb. 20 Security Council session, even though he had left the chamber by then.

No matter that the Jerusalem decision reversed decades of US and international policy. “The United States stands ready to work with the Palestinian leadership. Our negotiators are sitting right behind me, ready to talk. But we will not chase after you,” Haley said.

The Middle East negotiators sitting behind her in the Council chamber were White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s “special representative for international negotiations.” Both are Orthodox Jews with close ties to Israel and no previous foreign policy experience.

Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, is a grandchild of Holocaust survivors and was educated in Jewish schools. Although he has cut formal ties to his family’s business, the firm has made big deals with Israeli businesses and donated large sums to a variety of projects in Israel through a family foundation, the Charles and Seryl Kushner Foundation, including to groups in West Bank settlements.

Between 2011 and 2013, the foundation donated $315,000 to Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces — the Israeli Army’s US fund-raising arm — and Kushner served on the organization’s board before heading to the White House in 2017, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz has reported. Netanyahu is a longtime close friend of Kushner’s father, Charles.

Greenblatt, who reports to Kushner at the White House, was the top lawyer for Trump’s business empire before being called to the White House and “cares deeply about Israel,” according to Politico, although colleagues say his first loyalty is to the president himself. Like Kushner, he attended Jewish schools, including a yeshiva in a West Bank settlement. His job during the presidential campaign was to reach out to Jewish voters and assemble an Israel advisory committee, although his biggest challenge may have been to convince Jewish voters that Trump was not anti-Semitic.

Haley herself, as a Southern politician with an ambition for higher national office, also champions Israel’s cause whenever she can. Her 20-minute March 5 speech to Aipac drew 12 standing ovations and cries of “We love you” from the crowd. “I love you too,” she responded.

Like Trump, Haley tends to view foreign policy through the filter of domestic politics and may well be contemplating a run for the White House when she gives such barn-burner speeches to Aipac. The US president’s Middle East moves are not meant to align with longtime allies or a history of Security Council resolutions or even to push for a peace deal but to appeal to elements of his US political base, including evangelical Christians, conservative Jews, people who dislike foreign aid and anti-Muslim bigots.

It is a big question whether Trump’s blueprint for peace will ever see the light of day. But is there any question that, should it actually surface, it will be extremely pleasing to Israel and toxic to the Palestinians?

Recent events have actually further diminished the odds of any Palestinian-friendly elements in a US proposal. Kushner’s personal power has been diminished by a fuss over his lack of a top security clearance as rumors fly that the White House chief of staff, John Kelly, may be trying to push him out the door. Special Council Robert Mueller has cast a shadow over Trump’s ability to remain in office. And Netanyahu is fighting for his own survival amid a wave of Israeli corruption investigations.

The New York Times suggested that the whiff of scandals could prompt Netanyahu to convince Trump to move more quickly on a peace proposal. “A plan that benefits Israel at the Palestinians’ expense would only reinforce Mr. Netanyahu politically, underscoring his argument to Israeli voters that he is a peerless master of the Israeli-American relationship,” The Times wrote.

At the same time, helping Netanyahu is great for Trump as well as for Netanyahu himself, observed Aaron David Miller, a key figure in shaping US politics in the Mideast for decades.

“To say that Trump has already opened the door to Netanyahu would be the understatement of the century. Driven by a need to be the un-Obama and to shore up his domestic base, including evangelical Christians, Trump has acquired a set of impressive firsts: first U.S. president to visit Israel so early in his term; first to pray at the Western Wall; first to declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel; and, in the ultimate gift to Netanyahu, first to open a U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem,” Miller told Politico.

So what happens if, under American “leadership,” the idea of a separate Palestinian nation — the two-state solution — dies and an elated Israel defaults to a so-called one-state solution? In the most noble iteration of this scheme, Israelis and Palestinians, Muslims and Jews, share a single space by granting the Palestinians full rights as Israeli citizens and permanently folding them and their occupied territory into a greater Israel.

But demographers warn that the combined area’s Arab population is growing so fast that Muslims could soon outnumber Jews, ending Israel’s status as a Jewish state.

Does that mean that Israel’s only safe choice is to continue the occupation indefinitely, locking down second-class status for the Palestinians with no endpoint in mind? Surely this would ensure enduring regional instability and prove to be a policy that the rest of the world simply could not stomach.

We welcome your comments on this op-ed, part of our Nikki Haley Watch series, in the Leave a Reply section below.

We welcome your comments on this article.  What are your thoughts?

Irwin Arieff is a veteran writer and editor with extensive experience writing about international diplomacy and food, cooking and restaurants. Before leaving daily journalism in 2007, he was a Reuters correspondent for 23 years, serving in senior posts in Washington, Paris and New York as well as at the United Nations (where he covered five of the 10 years that Sergey Lavrov spent in New York as Russia’s senior UN ambassador). Arieff also wrote restaurant reviews for The Washington Post and Washington City Paper in the 1980s and 1990s with his wife, Deborah Baldwin.

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A Useful Mideast Peace Plan? Don’t Hold Your Breath
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ikkie David
ikkie David
6 years ago

Thanks for a very interesting article about Nikky Halley, Kushner and the jewish support to israel in USA.
I now understand why this gang at the UN arealways biased against the Palestinian cause.ikkie

Bill Buchanan
Bill Buchanan
6 years ago

An equitable peace between Israel and the Palestinians seems no closer than it has been in many years. The one-sided support of US President Donald Trump makes matters worse rather than better. Those who help Israel or the Palestinians generally have their own best interests in mind.

The Israelis can probably understand the continued guerrilla conflicts when they remember their own struggles against the British where people who are convinced of their oppression will fight forever for independence. Not that understanding anything seems to count for much in this ongoing debacle where both sides clearly, are as absolutely right as they are wrong. It seems a foregone conclusion that the region, being in a state of flux, will eventually weigh on the outcome of the Israeli-Palestine situation. Even if the conflict became nuclear, Israel’s 9 million or so population is far more vulnerable to nuclear retaliation. Better that they come to mutually agreed terms before that happens and, better to make the decisions by themselves rather than on behalf of other players.

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