Trump should seek to be the first to broker peace between Israel and Palestine
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President Trump says he wants “to see peace” between Israel and the Palestinians. No one would disagree. But how is a peace agreement to be reached after decades of failed negotiations? And will it meet the basic requirements of a just and durable solution to the 70-year-old conflict?

The administration has been engaging with a Palestinian advance team to lay the foundation for Wednesday’s meeting between the U.S. president and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. Considerable attention is being given to Palestinian economic development as the first step toward “the ultimate deal.”

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Of course economic development is badly needed. The Gaza Strip, under siege for 10 years this June, is on the brink of disaster. There is virtually no drinkable groundwater and the coastal aquifer faces permanent destruction from overuse; the unemployment rate is the highest in the world at 43 percent (more than 60 percent for the youth); and electricity distribution has been reduced to just four hours a day—including for hospitals and other essential service providers.

 

In the West Bank, Israel has kept 60 percent of the occupied territory off limits to Palestinians who are corralled through a maze of checkpoints, gates and walls to get anywhere. That no-go area is precious to Palestinians: It is the only land reserve for major infrastructure projects and it includes Palestine’s breadbasket. In a largely agrarian society, land for food production is key to survival in hard economic times. And times have never been worse for the Palestinian economy largely as a function of Israel’s 50-year old military occupation.

So, yes, economic development is essential. But let’s not fall back into the same old policy mistakes. Economic development without a political endgame for a sovereign Palestinian state will fail, as shown by the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations. Indeed, US engagement has consistently sidestepped the core issue of the conflict: That Palestinians, like any other people, are entitled to basic human rights, including sovereignty on their land, freedom and equality.

The U.S. must take a stand for rights. No other country offers Israel such massive military aid or support at the United Nations. The first step would be to acknowledge that political and economic sovereignty go hand in hand. If Palestinians cannot freely manage their own resources and control their own borders, then economic failure is a certainty. It is past time to scrap – or at least seriously overhaul – the Protocol on Economic Relations (the Paris Protocol) signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1994. This was intended to operate for a temporary period through 1999. Instead, it has locked the Palestinian economy into Israel’s: A captive market for a captive people. 

Second, it must be acknowledged that investing US resources in Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation while Israel’s military occupation remains entrenched can never bring security to Palestinians – or to Israelis. This cooperation has also caused near-irreparable damage to the Palestinian Authority’s legitimacy and has encouraged Israel to maintain the status quo.

The occupation is the root cause of the insecurity in this land. You cannot demolish homes, confiscate land and resources and build illegal Israeli settlements in their place without provoking resistance. As the former Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon said last year, it is human nature to resist occupation.

Third, it is time to put human rights first. The illegal and immoral blockade and siege of Gaza must end immediately. Moreover, the 6,300 Palestinians held in Israeli jails have rights. As a recent analysis at the Washington Post pointed out, the nearly 1,200 prisoners who are in the second week of a hunger strike are calling for basic human rights, including having regular family visits. The article further points to the Israeli military court system’s practice of holding those arrested for days without access to a lawyer, during which interrogation often includes “cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment”. Unsurprisingly, the conviction rate is more than 99 percent.

As many as one million Palestinians have spent time in Israel’s jails over the past 50 years of occupation. Nearly every Palestinian family in the occupied territories has had a family member imprisoned, which is why thousands rally in solidarity.

Finally, the U.S. should only consider the issue of relocating its embassy in Jerusalem after a final peace agreement is reached. Any other move would lead to bloodshed and loss of life in both Palestine and Israel and inflame the region.

The administration faces a choice. It could try to broker a real estate deal and leave the core issues unresolved. Or it could use its special relationship with Israel to end the occupation that began in 1967 on the path to a just solution to the conflict. That’s what no administration has tried yet. Could that not be the starting point for a just and lasting peace?

Nadia Hijab is the executive director of Al-Shabaka, a nonprofit focusing on Palestinian human rights and based in Washington. Zaha Hassan is a human rights attorney, Middle East Fellow at New America, a think tank based in Washington, and former coordinator and legal advisor to Palestinian negotiators.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.