Pivots and pitfalls as President Trump eyes new Mideast peace push through Gaza

Pivots and pitfalls as President Trump eyes new Mideast peace push through Gaza
© Getty Images

Gifting an Elton John CD to “Little Rocket Man,” pulling the plug on the Iran nuclear deal, slapping billions of dollars in tariffs on China, shaking up NATO’s status quo, downsizing the State Department.

Forget tweets. When it comes to foreign policy, President Donald Trump continues to shake well and stir, often shocking friend and foe alike. Now there are signs the Trump administration is about to nudge the Middle East’s Richter scale with a push for peace that focuses on ... Gaza?

ADVERTISEMENT
Yes, Gaza. Led by the president’s son-in-law, Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerTenants in rent-controlled Kushner Cos. buildings say they were pushed out: report Mexico's president presses Pompeo on reuniting migrant families Hillicon Valley: Mueller indicts Russians for DNC hack | US officially lifts ZTE ban | AT&T CEO downplays merger challenge | Microsoft asks for rules on facial recognition technology | Dems want probe into smart TVs MORE, it appears the United States, with the support or understanding of Israel and key Gulf states, will seek ways to improve the daily lives of Gaza’s people, starting with their electrical grid and water services.

 

Yes, the same Gaza that is ruled with an iron fist by Hamas, a duly-elected terrorist organization whose genocidal, Jew-hating charter calls for Israel’s destruction and invokes the classic anti-Semitic screed, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” The same Hamas that has barred Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas from setting foot in the Gaza Strip since his election more than a decade ago.

Is there a method to this new madness? Actually, yes. The Abbas-led Palestinian Authority (PA) never liked President TrumpDonald John TrumpSasse: Trump shouldn't dignify Putin with Helsinki summit Top LGBT group projects message onto Presidential Palace in Helsinki ahead of Trump-Putin summit Hillary Clinton to Trump ahead of Putin summit: 'Do you know which team you play for?' MORE’s views on the Middle East; Abbas and the PA heaped scorn on the U.S. ambassador to Israel even before the United States moved its embassy to Jerusalem. Furthermore, Hamas has made clear it considers any Trump peace plan dead on arrival. Finally, the PA’s ambassador to Tehran has declared President Trump “is a tool of international Zionism.”

So, instead of following the well-trodden path of previous U.S. presidents and many European leaders, who have sweetened the PA coffers every time that Abbas cried wolf, the Trump team has decided to bypass Abbas’ West Bank-based regime and instead offer long-suffering Gaza residents hope for a better future.

Israelis would welcome a quiet southern border without having to launch a major military incursion. Gulf states, already pouring millions of dollars into Gaza, would welcome some stability for Palestinians and the region. Working closely with Israel to confront the existential threats from Iran, the United States also could set the stage for open economic and diplomatic relations between Israel and Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and, ultimately, Saudi Arabia. The Trump team believes such seismic developments would force the PA into the game, or sideline it permanently.

This represents a visionary approach, but the Trump administration should keep in mind a few words of caution.

First, Team Trump will discover there is no reliable interlocutor on the ground in Gaza. Qatar, a major donor in Gaza, is unlikely to be a reliable partner; it is openly playing a double game, cozying up to Washington and Tehran simultaneously.

Second, the administration should not expect any meaningful support from the United Nations. If ever there was an opportunity for the United Nations to live up to its charter, this is it. But, sadly, abject failure to pave the way for long-term peace that recognizes the Jewish state’s right to security and sovereignty is part of the United Nations’ DNA.

The U.N. Relief and Works Agency is the largest single employer in Gaza but, rather than playing a moderating influence, UNRWA is de facto controlled by Hamas’ diktats. Witness UNRWA schools closing on May 14-15, the bloodiest days of Hamas-driven riots at the Israeli border; Hamas wanted as many kids at the border, with the hope of driving up the death toll beyond Hamas’ members. Meanwhile UNRWA’s alleged new peace curriculum is actually a war curriculum; not a single map in its new textbooks mentions Israel but there’s still mention of “martyrs” (read “killers of Israelis”).

Every international drive to help the people of Gaza rebuild homes after the last war with Israel resulted in building materials diverted by Hamas to its network of underground terror tunnels. Major humanitarian donors, from the Gulf States to the European Union to Japan, acknowledge there is precious little transparency on how funds are actually spent.

So, while it may be worthwhile for President Trump and his team to think out of the box to create new paths toward peace, a good place to start is by acting out of the box. The worst thing America can do is to write another “trust me” check to Hamas. Suits and ties do not transform terrorists into statesmen.

If Hamas really wants to play ball, it must return Israelis — dead and alive — still held hostage in Gaza. And the dropping of its charter must precede any involvement of Hamas in the U.S. plan. If Hamas won’t act in good faith, then the United States should find and empower Palestinians who’ve had enough of terrorist rule.

Bolstering Gaza with huge funds could backfire, not only by reversing Israeli success in degrading Hamas’ paramilitary capability, but also by allowing Hamas to emerge the big winner in the West Bank. By swapping an enfeebled Abbas with the Hamas-aligned Muslim Brotherhood, we would enable terrorists to threaten Israel’s heartland.

If the president’s approach is going to work, this is what he needs to do: Squeeze and isolate the bad guys. Don’t reward them unless they adhere to basic demands — and then, trust but verify. If they call your bluff, identify new leaders from within Gaza’s population who get it.

There is an extremely high probability that empowering new Gazan leadership is a necessary step. History tells us Hamas will view adherence to basic human rights as a poison pill. Hopefully Trump’s team has people in mind and a “flip-the-switch” plan of action ready to go. Perhaps when Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank understand there really is a new sheriff in town, they will have the courage to take back their future from leaders who have trapped generations of Palestinians in a culture of death.

Rabbi Marvin Hier is founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an international Jewish human rights organization named for the famed Nazi hunter and Holocaust survivor.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the center and director of its Global Social Action programs.