Change and new opportunities rarely arrive on our doorstep. The new US administration will be challenged widely. Diplomacy, not war, is the only way to convert these challenges into opportunities.
Peace in the Middle East is among the most difficult issues facing President Trump and his administration. Israel and its vital relationship with the US sits at the center of that challenge.
The US cannot force peace on Israel or the Palestinians. It may be in their interest to help find that peace, but it is an issue of the same vital interest to Israelis and Palestinians alike.
Trump faces a Middle East in turmoil. Peace and stability are clearly long-term causes worth fighting for. Defeating ISIS is a challenge not only in the region but also across the breadth of Islam and its 1.3 billion adherents. While shaping peace for Israelis and Palestinians will not solve that problem, it would say a lot about America’s role as a world leader. Diktat is not the answer, but a strong role to encourage a fair, just and lasting peace will be added impetus to what the US seeks for the region.
How to do this is not easy. Two critical problems bedevil the solution.
First is the fair and just terms on which any peace deal ought to be agreed.
Israel must be recognized as a Jewish state but fully in the context of the vibrant and continuing democracy which has helped to make it such a staunch and admired ally of the US. That principle alone means there must too be a viable and secure state for Palestinians. Democracy and endless occupation are not compatible. The last US administration presented serious suggestions to make a fair and lasting peace happen.
Second, the US must encourage the leaders on both sides to have the confidence in their own societies to craft a solution that addresses the very difficult compromises that must be made for a fair, secure and enduring outcome. This is a trenchant obstacle.
Israel — as the strongest power in the region with the full security backing of the US and with the confidence of the new administration will need to help resolve two critical issues: Can Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu assure Israel’s eternal existence in the Middle East by keeping his powder dry, while at the same time fashioning a fair agreement with Palestinians?
And can Netanyahu assist — or even permit — rather than simply oppose the Palestinian effort to bring themselves together in Gaza and the West Bank — as they must — to deal with the peace opportunity that Trump can create?
Many around Netanyahu will oppose such a course, but his legacy — and his continuation in office — require taking these steps.
By suggesting that it might move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, the Trump administration has not made the best start to addressing these issues.
But should the move happen, it could be balanced by establishing another US Embassy — or a special mission — to the Palestinians in East Jerusalem, pending US recognition of their state as negotiations proceed.
A new US Embassy to Israel as a facility in Jerusalem would take some time to build. But the ambassador should be able to operate from a new office there as a complement to a special ambassador to the Palestinian authority in East Jerusalem, living and working with the Palestinian Authority — much as my friend and colleague, Martin Indyk, has so cogently suggested.
The challenge is truly great, but no people deserve peace more than Israelis and Palestinians after nearly 70 years of conflict, disruption, destruction, tension, turmoil and violence.
This opportunity can be made to bring about real change by the actions of the new administration. The 70th anniversary in 2018 of the establishment of Israel is a cogent and realistic goal toward which to work.
Thomas R. Pickering is former US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and Ambassador to the UN, Russia, Israel and Jordan. The opinions in this article belong to the author.