Trumpian truth-telling about Iran, Syria and the Palestinians can improve the strategic environment, gut the Palestinian strategy of delegitimizing Israel, and improve the moral tone of American foreign policy. Rehabilitative discourse is critical for the Middle East.
Here is what Prime Minister Netanyahu might tell US President Donald Trump in their first working meeting after January 20, 2017:
You, Mr. President, can make a long-term contribution to Middle East stability by moving from pettifogging to truth-telling. You can improve the chances for Israeli-Arab peace, too, by tossing hackneyed assumptions and exposing long-standing falsehoods.
Just this shift towards truth-telling – even without any formal change in US policies – will have huge salutary impact on the strategic environment. It will change the political discourse and force regional actors to amend their behavior.
The place to start, of course, is Iran. Acknowledge that Teheran is the core threat in the Middle East, not part of the solution in the region – as President Obama perilously prattled. Expose the under-the-table promises that Obama made to the Iranians, including his massive cash payouts to the Ayatollahs and commitments to respect Iranian interests in Syria and Iraq.
Remember that the American commitment to the JCPOA hangs from a narrow thread of executive authority: the president’s power to temporarily waive or suspend economic sanctions on Iran. You have your pick of coercive economic measures to wield against Iran, with nearly three dozen bills circulating in Congress penalizing Tehran for its missile program, regional power projection, fomenting of terrorism and human rights abuses.
You have the tools and every good reason to stop Iran from becoming a superpower in the region.
Second, you must know that Israel cannot tolerate the way in which the Iranians are trying to turn Lebanon and Syria into their forward base of operations against Israel. We need you to start calling out Hezbollah for its heinous crimes in Syria and effective transformation of southern Lebanon into a gigantic missile base with millions of hostages. This is our “Cuban missile crisis,” and we’ll need your backing to “mow the grass” there, sooner or later.
Third, you have a chance to put an end to American acquiescence in the immoral shenanigans of the United Nations. Slash and burn every corrupt UN body that obsessively targets Israel while ignoring the plight of Middle East Christians, Kurds and plain-old Syrian civilians.
A couple of Reagan-style “evil empire” speeches and Kirkpatrick-clone addresses by your new UN ambassador will go a long way towards the cleansing of international discourse from hypocritical rot. No more coddling of enemies and demeaning of friends.
THE GREATEST DEGREE of rehabilitative discourse is needed in the Israeli-Palestinian arena. You have no idea how healthy it would be for the American President to stop jabbering nonsensically about the “unsustainable” status quo in the West Bank, or about the “centrality” of Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The status quo in Judea and Samaria is the least-worst option in the medium term. The Arab world has far greater strategic concerns than the status of the ramshackle and troublesome Palestinian Authority.
It is equally important for you to reject the Obama administration’s obsessive and false narratives about Israeli settlement construction being illegal, massive, and the main obstacle to peace. It is none of the above. Jews belong in Judea for the long-term no less than Arabs belong in Arabia.
Even opponents of expanded Israeli settlement in the West Bank and supporters of a two-state solution should support affirm Israel’s historic rights in Judea and Samaria. This is critical in leveling the diplomatic playing field. Israel must not go into future negotiations as a guilty party. So I hope you reject the myth that Israel has stolen Palestinian land.
In fact, I, Benjamin Netanyahu, deserve credit, not opprobrium, from the point of view of the international community, for restricting the footprint of Israeli settlement in Judea and Samaria. I have done so in a way that does not impinge on establishment of a stable Palestinian state in the territories – if the Palestinians might ever want to form such a state.
And here is the rub: The Palestinians show no evidence of realistically wanting to establish a peaceful state alongside Israel. They get away with radical behavior, maximalist demands, and terrorism because no one in the international community dares to call them out.
You should confront the Palestinians about their refusal – the true core of the conflict – to accept Jewish sovereignty in the Middle East. This position is expressed in their incessant derogatory propaganda about Jews and Israel, the denial of any historical Jewish connection to Jerusalem and its environs, and the insistence that all the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea belongs to the Arabs – making the Jews living there, in the Palestinian view, contemptible interlopers to be killed or evicted.
In response, you should declare the obvious: that peace requires recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. You can demand that the PA cut Jew-hatred and the glorification of violence from its schoolbooks and state-controlled media. And you should insist that the Palestinians renounce their so-called “right of return” as a condition for America’s re-engaging in peace diplomacy.
In peace process orthodoxy, the ‘refugee problem’ is classified as one of the ‘final status’ issues – problems so difficult that they can be addressed only after all the easier ones have been resolved. In fact, the Palestinian insistence on a ‘right of return’ assures that negotiations will fail, because they amount to the Palestinian insistence on achieving what is not negotiable: Israel’s disappearance. Any peace effort should begin by the resettling of many Palestinian refugees outside of Israel.
And you should sign the Taylor Force Act, in order to press the Palestinian Authority into ending its financial support (at least $140 million a year) to terrorists and their families.
All this would discourage the Palestinian strategy of delegitimation of Israel, as well as improve the moral tone of American foreign policy.
LET ME PUT IT another way: The false Palestinian narrative of one-sided victimhood is a major hindrance to all peace efforts. If you want to help achieve peace, Mr. President, you need to prod the Palestinians out of self-pity and warn them off rituals of bashing Israel.
For decades, the world has lectured Israel about its need to accept painful compromises for peace. Obama and John Kerry were experts at this, frequently spelling out in sanctimonious detail what sacrifices for peace Israel must bear.
The Trump presidency might better be known for usefully articulating what painful, practical compromise means for the Palestinians. This might help them mature.
Painful, practical compromise means this: That the only Palestinian state that the US might be able to support must be truly demilitarized, cannot form hostile foreign alliances, will dismantle the Hamas army and hand over its weaponry, agree to Israeli monitors on all its external borders, and accept a permanent Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley to prevent the emergence of another radical Islamic bastion on Israel’s eastern border.
It also means that the only viable Palestinian state from an American point of view is one comes to terms with Israeli settlement blocs and with effective Israeli control of the greater Jerusalem envelope. True Israeli-Palestinian peace also will require the sharing of airspace, natural resources, and historical and religious sites – including the Temple Mount.
Articulating these truths would constitute a striking change in diplomatic discourse. And the best way to launch this truth-telling campaign, Mr. President, is by moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem – as you promised.