The danger of a one-sided strategy for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

The danger of a one-sided strategy for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
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The increasingly dominant role of the president, relative to Congress, has been troubling for many years. The dire consequences are evident with Donald Trump’s presidency. Trump’s policies relating to Iran, North Korea, and many other countries harm American interests and threaten to be disastrous. In particular, I believe Trump’s current strategy to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is misguided.

Last December, President TrumpDonald John TrumpFormer Watergate prosecutor: Trump taking the fifth would be political suicide Comey: I’m ‘embarrassed and ashamed’ by Republican party Comey, Anderson Cooper clash over whether memo release violated FBI rules MORE began to force the Palestinian Authority to accept the “peace” terms dictated by the current Israeli government. This strategy is likely to have many unfortunate consequences for the Israelis as well for the Palestinians. But it will also have many bad effects for America and could unleash news dangers.

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The strategy began ambiguously, when Trump announced his intention to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. Initially, he slightly moderated the significance of the decision by declaring that final Israeli borders should be determined by Israeli and Palestinian negotiations. But soon thereafter, he said he had taken Jerusalem off the negotiation table.

Furthermore, Trump and Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceConservatives eye new tax cut for capital gains The Hill's 12:30 Report Juan Williams: GOP support for Trump begins to crack MORE made clear that the embassy move would be swift. He also reduced by about half the usual U.S. contribution to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the major program supporting Palestinian refugees. He announced he was considering closing the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s office in Washington. Clearly, Trump is trying to impose a one-sided settlement on the Palestinians.

As in other Trump foreign policy decisions, this approach does not follow a comprehensive consideration of U.S. objectives, widely-sourced information about developments in the region, and review of alternative strategies. Instead, it seems Trump is pandering to some people among his base, particularly in this instance, some Christian Evangelicals and some supporters of right-wing Israeli policies. Moreover, as in other instances, he seems to insist upon acting contrary to whatever former President Obama did.

These are poor grounds on which to base foreign policy choices. Bad consequences for America are already evident and more will appear as this unilateral policy is pursued. The actions destroyed U.S. mediation efforts that were underway. He took an action that was decried by nearly all governments in the world, as demonstrated by the overwhelming votes against it in the U.N. Security Council and U.N. General Assembly.

This harms American standing and influence in the world. Furthermore, the policy increases the chances that fanatics in many parts of the world will undertake terror attacks against Americans. Indeed, organizations that wish to limit or counter U.S. influence and presence in the Middle East would be more able to recruit, mobilize and support such fanatics.

An imposed one-sided solution will have other grave consequences for America. There has been considerable security and other realms of cooperation between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority, which the U.S. government has aided. President Trump’s moves to impose a settlement will undermine such cooperation.

The collapse of this cooperation will cause grave security and economic problems that may induce more U.S. engagement to maintain order and economic provisions. Finally, Trump’s actions enhance extreme political partisanship and other divisions within our country, since he gives no credence to the many people in this country who oppose the policy.

Greater public engagement is needed to counter Trump’s dangerous foreign policies. The resistance against Trump has been strong and effective to some degree, regarding many domestic issues. There are also many organizations advocating for better foreign policy alternatives in specific cases, such as Israeli-Palestinian relations and in regard to Iran and North Korea. There are also organizations campaigning for a less militarized foreign policy and a safer nuclear policy.

A broad coalition among many of the organizations advocating on particular issues is needed. Trump’s short-sighted, uninformed, bellicosity can provide a focal point for mobilization. One common goal is a better informed public, rejecting rampant falsehoods. Another goal could be to help create a public that is more skeptical of the effectiveness of threats and violence and more appreciative of the effectiveness of persuasion and being respectful.

More generally, broad campaigns should be undertaken to restore a larger congressional role in foreign affairs. The American public should urge Republican and Democratic lawmakers to act on their responsibilities and check the current misguided policies. Congress should examine possible better strategies to foster peace.

Federal agencies need to be led again by officials who believe in the missions of the organizations they serve. In particular, the State Department needs resources to recruit knowledgeable and skilled personnel and build the technical infrastructure they need. It is not too early to begin planning and acting to restore American foreign policy norms and institutions for the years after Trump leaves office.

Louis Kriesberg is professor emeritus of sociology and the Maxwell professor emeritus of social conflict studies at Syracuse University.