Time to Act

President Donald Trump, special adviser Jared Kushner, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and new Chief of Staff John Kelly comprise the key actors in any attempt to secure a near-comprehensive peace agreement among Israel, its Arab neighbors and the Palestinians. They are trusted, pragmatic and without historical baggage. But, given the political turmoil in Washington, the time to achieve a successful outcome may be short.

In order to achieve a viable settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, the Saudis must be an involved and partner. No longer will veiled military maneuvers andeconomic ties with Israel be enough. Their assistance in supporting secure borders for Palestinian and Jewish states, in developing policy that would result in an equitable “right of return” for Palestinian refugees and in finding a way to share Jerusalem remain the most difficult and potentially explosive issues. “Almost” agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in 2000 and 2008 indicate that the “right” combination of negotiators could develop and solidify a pragmatic solution in the coming months.

For Israel, no deal will work without trust of American leaders. Trump, Kushner and most, if not all, of the lead players that comprise the national security bureaucracy have developed a personal and supportive relationship with their colleagues in Israel and the AIPAC community in the United States. Remarkably, many of these same American policymakers are also well received in Arab capitals, especially Riyadh.

With Congress on summer hiatus, the window for determined American diplomacy can open to let fresh proposals in. While Trump and company may not be around long enough to matter, and repeated scandals in Jerusalem may cut Netanyahu’s tenure in office, trusted players can perhaps concertize a formula for peace. With the Saudis seeking allies against Iran and politically beleaguered American and Israeli policymakers looking to divert attention from their respective problems at home, now may be the perfect opportunity to actually accomplish something substantive.

North Korea, European alliance disputes, Venezuela and Russia are foreign policy matters that present ongoing challenges for the U.S. In contrast, history and religion have too often sidelined and/or complicated the policymaking process toward the Middle East for at least the last 70 years. But the present coterie of Israeli and Palestinian decision-makers have seen
the maps, know what is possible and can now use Saudi support to develop a viable framework for peace. All of this alongside an Israeli leadership and body politic that seemingly trusts the United States to render assistance should an agreement fail. What are they waiting for?

Arthur C. Abramson is former executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council. He has a Ph.D. in political science from UCLA with expertise in American foreign policy and the Middle East politics.

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