Art of the Israeli-Palestinian deal

Op-Ed: Here’s how Donald Trump can help resolve the conflict using principles from his business bestseller

President Donald Trump delivers a speech to the Arab Islamic American Summit, at the King Abdulaziz Conference Center, Sunday, May 21, 2017, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. From left, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Ivanka Trump, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner. (AP/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump delivers a speech to the Arab Islamic American Summit, at the King Abdulaziz Conference Center, Sunday, May 21, 2017, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. From left, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Ivanka Trump, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner. (AP/Evan Vucci)

On President Trump’s visit this week to Israel and the Palestinian Territories, it is not clear what peace plan – if any – he may have brought along, but from his 1987 book, “The Art of the Deal,” we know the 11 elements of dealmaking that Trump the business leader regards as vital for success. Here’s how Trump the statesman can apply these 11 principles (plus one more) to Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking:

Think big: First, include the regional actors, namely the Arab Quartet: Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. Note that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu recognized the “spirit” and “positive elements” of the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, backed by 58 states, offering Israel full diplomatic relations upon a comprehensive peace treaty with the Palestinians. API could therefore serve as a “Think Big” framework for a peace deal. Secondly, amplify the huge benefits of peace for the respective parties, rather than dig into their painful compromises.

Protect the downside and the upside will take care of itself: Past failures in the negotiations are largely due to the absence of contingency plans and the “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” paradigm of Camp David, Taba, Annapolis and the Kerry round of talks. It is high time to change it into a “what has been agreed should be implemented” approach that would provide the foundation for handling the downside, particularly a total collapse in the absence of a full-fledge agreement.

The two-state-for-two-people solution provides the best political, diplomatic and economic solution for both parties.

Maximize your options and remain flexible: Trump’s team should also engage with civil society organizations and the media. Establishing a wider lineup of important stakeholders will enable better trade-offs in the negotiations. For instance, for the last twenty-five years, the future status of Jerusalem has often been erroneously portrayed exclusively as a Palestinian issue. However, it is basically a Muslim-Arab, Christian and Jewish issue. Incorporating leading Muslim, Christian and Jewish figures in the discussion – as reflected by Trump’s flight schedule from Riyadh to Jerusalem and Ramallah, then to Rome – increases the chances of finding a solution.

Know your market: From the outset, the Israeli-Palestinian negotiation process has been affected by domestic politics of the respective parties, which resulted in either a walk-away or violence, or both. Currently, such domestic considerations are the Fatah-Hamas rivalry, expressed recently in the salary cuts to PA officials in Gaza and non-payment to Israel for Gaza’s electricity, and elements in the Israeli government, who dream of Greater Israel, reflected in recent legislation such as the “Regulation Bill,” on-going settlement construction and calls for Israeli annexation of West Bank areas. By understanding that this is “the market,” Trump would employ a hands-on approach and a US-led binding, continuous process from which the parties cannot easily walk away.

Use your leverage: Trump should draw a lesson from the accumulated experience of his predecessors in the White House and act at the very beginning of his tenure, when the American President has more leverage on the parties than he would ever have.

Enhance your location: Washington, DC is uniquely located for facilitating US-led international and regional efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. From there Mr. Trump can revitalize the Quartet – the UN, Russia and the EU — and lead the setting of the terms of reference for the negotiations, the structure of the process and the supervision of it.

Get the word out: One can have the most beautiful product in the world but if people do not know about it, it’s not going to be worth much. Digital diplomacy will be a significant factor for Middle East peace, and few politicians worldwide understand the power of social media and shaping public opinion as well as Donald Trump. A culture of peace supported by digital ambassadors must replace the deadlocked narratives of hate. It is one thing to have the two leaders sign an agreement and another to convince fourteen million people, Israelis and Palestinians, to support it.

Fight back: In his book, Trump acknowledges that there are times when confrontation is the only way to go forward. The Middle East negotiation process seems inseparable from bloodshed. There is rage, frustration, mistrust and perpetual rounds of confrontation. Spoilers often caused the parties to leave the negotiations, resort to violence, or both. The President should make clear to the parties: On my watch, violence and terrorism will never gain the upper hand over reason.

Deliver the Goods: Trump is well positioned to implement a “Marshall Plan for Palestinian and Regional development” and make concrete the initiatives for the reconstruction and development of Gaza, based on effective security arrangements and within the framework of a regional diplomatic effort. Major US investments in the Palestinian economy, particularly the high-tech sector, encouraging building projects such as Rawabi in the West Bank, supporting vocational training programs, upgrading internet and telecommunication lines (3G), enabling online payment methods, establishing an efficient logistics network and developing a tri-lateral industrial park with Jordan, are steps in this direction.

Contain the costs: The costs of conflict are dozens of times higher than the investments needed for steps such as these, and the establishment of an effective compensation mechanism together with the Arab States for the compensation and rehabilitation of the Palestinian refugees. Billions of US dollars do not compare to the loss of human lives, property and hope that this region has suffered for too long.

Have fun: The story of Israelis and Palestinians is by no means just one of disputed narratives and protracted conflict. Trump should see not only the flames, despair, cynicism and bloodshed but, more importantly, what really drives and motivates the people in this fascinating region.

Let us also add one more element to ensure success in this arena, and that is:

Make sure the other side understands what it’s gaining: The two-state-for-two-people solution provides the best political, diplomatic and economic solution for both parties. Israel can retain its identity as the democratic nation-state of the Jewish People and benefit from the lifting trade sanctions by Arab countries, cutbacks on security spending and tapping into new markets. Palestinians can exercise their right to self-determination in an independent and viable nation-state, benefitting from lifting of trade and travel restrictions, improved employment opportunities and foreign investments.

President Trump should be pleased to know that Israelis and the Palestinians would appreciate his hands-on assistance in an ongoing and binding fashion. He should empower the Israeli leadership to be pro-active, strategize, plan and act to achieve peace and security via reasonable concessions aiming at securing the future of a Jewish-democratic Israel.

He should tell the Palestinians: Stop victimizing yourselves; take responsibility; decrease hate; end terrorism; address your needs. Trump should further engage with the Palestinians to assure accountable governance matching the will of the people. And he should tell both parties: I am securing the future for your children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Gilead Sher heads the Center for Applied Negotiations at the Tel Aviv Institute for National Security Studies INSS and co-chairs the nonpartisan organization Blue White Future. He is a former Israeli chief and co-chief negotiator at the Camp David summit and the Taba talks, and served as former Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s chief of staff and policy coordinator.

Jonathan Heuberger is a German attorney specializing in public international law and a member of the Center for Applied Negotiations at INSS. In 2016, he published “From the Madrid Conference to the Kerry Initiative – An Insight into the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process” (Claus Kress Ed., Occasional Paper in International Peace and Security Law, Göttingen 2016, 113 p.) with the Institute for International Peace and Security Law in Cologne, Germany.

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