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Missed opportunities, missing diplomacy
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Editorial

Missed opportunities, missing diplomacy

Presidential advisors Jason Greenblatt, at left, speaks with Jared Kushner at a press conference in Jerusalem in 2017. Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images
Presidential advisors Jason Greenblatt, at left, speaks with Jared Kushner at a press conference in Jerusalem in 2017. Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images

There’s little doubt that improving economic conditions for Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, a key element in the Trump administration’s long-promised and still-evolving peace plan, can be an important step forward. Palestinian leaders who are boycotting initial talks on the administration’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan are making yet another strategic blunder that can only reinforce a status quo they abhor.

But the planned $50 billion in economic assistance will have little or no impact in a diplomatic vacuum. Without equal and rapid progress on the core issues of the conflict, President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century” will be no deal at all, just another empty promise adding to the despair and resentment that fuel new conflict. Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, who have led the effort, say they are well aware of the need to address the political issues but felt the economic enticement would be a good place to start.

It is a harsh reality that no initial proposal for resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict will launch with equal enthusiasm by all parties. But it is in the best interests of each to work with whatever framework is available. By boycotting next week’s initial “workshop” in Bahrain, which focuses on economic opportunities for the long-suffering Palestinian people, the Palestinian Authority’s leaders are cutting themselves off from any possibility of helping shape the effort — another indication of how far they are from even considering the kind of diplomatic compromises required for a lasting settlement. (Israel will also have no representatives at the meeting.)

But it is also true that for the plan to have any chance of success, the Trump administration must work much harder to convince Palestinian leaders that their core concerns will be heard and addressed. Through its actions and words, administration officials have done exactly the opposite. Emphasizing “sticks” over “carrots,” the administration has backed away from the longstanding U.S. commitment to a two-state solution, and our ambassador in Jerusalem, David Friedman, has spoken often, if ambiguously, about Israel retaining West Bank territory. The administration has put relations with the Palestinians in the deep freeze while warmly embracing the embattled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

To be clear, we are by no means against the special U.S.-Israel relationship, a critical element in the Jewish state’s security. But we also recognize that any successful peace effort will require a recognition of the needs and sensitivities of all parties. And as Israeli leaders have maintained over the decades, peace cannot be imposed from the outside; without Palestinian buy-in at the outset, this newest plan will be no more successful than that of its predecessors.

The Trump plan could be the beginning of a genuine, if extraordinarily complex and difficult, peace process. But it will take carefully designed and calibrated diplomacy, something we have not seen from the president. Even the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, which chides him at times for his behavior but supports him nonetheless, this week noted: “The Donald Trump doctrine, so far as we can tell, is to keep everyone guessing.”

The effort will also require a willingness by Israeli leaders to compromise — not easy in the midst of a general election rerun — and an uncommon dose of common sense on the part of Palestinian leaders who seem determined to miss yet another opportunity.

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