Last week U.S. President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace team — United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley, ambassador to Israel David Friedman, senior advisor Jared Kushner and special envoy Jason Greenblatt — tweeted a joint statement: “No one will be fully pleased with our proposal, but that’s the way it must be if real peace is to be achieved. Peace can only succeed if it is based on realities.”
So it seems they’re still working on their proposal. However, they have been signaling recently that it won’t be the “ultimate deal” Trump has been touting since the start of his term, a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. Instead, their plan will focus on “robust economic” support for the Gaza Strip.
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Hostilities across the Israel-Gaza border over recent months accelerated Egypt’s efforts to broker an Israeli-Hamas cease-fire and economic relief measures for Gaza. The latest violent escalation also underscored the need to address the short-term interests of both sides: for Israel, an immediate and complete cessation of hostilities from Gaza; for the Palestinians, an end to the humanitarian crisis in the Strip.
But leaving the issue of Israel’s borders and Palestinian statehood to an undefined future date would constitute a fatal repetition of past mistakes. That is a key reality the U.S. team must face. In the 1993 and 1995 Oslo Accords, the lack of an agreed and concrete future vision, along with deficient implementation, caused the collapse of mutual trust between the parties. Israel’s unilateral disengagement from Gaza in 2005, which lacked a long-term political context, enabled the ascent of Hamas in the Strip, leading to the humanitarian, political and security crisis we are still facing today.
Consequently, the U.S. administration’s current plan, being crafted despite the refusal of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to cooperate, must not ignore the long-term interests of both sides. Israel’s interest is to be a democratic state that is the homeland of the Jewish people, with a clear Jewish majority and core democratic values within secure and recognized boundaries. The Palestinians’ long-term aim is to fulfill their self-determination by ending the occupation under which they have lived for half a century.
To meet both sides’ short-term interests and pave the way toward addressing their long-term ones, the U.S. plan for Gaza must introduce rehabilitation and large-scale economic projects that will strengthen pragmatic sectors in Palestinian society. Palestinians must participate and become major partners in such projects. The plan should also include an internationally and regionally monitored truce to diminish violence and incitement and allow for longer periods of tranquility.
A central economic project in Gaza should be the construction of a seaport, as has been proposed by several stakeholders, including Israeli ministers. It should be controlled by the Palestinian Authority and include representatives from Fatah and Hamas, together with international players acceptable to all parties involved. Israel should also take part in supervision and control of the port, to make sure no security threats to it are brought into Gaza. But no deal can make a long-lasting positive impact unless it incorporates the vision of two states for two peoples.
Thus, the Trump team’s end-of-conflict package must encompass the following: 1) a viable and democratic Palestinian state living peacefully side by side with Israel, based on the 1967 borders with equitable territorial swaps; 2) guaranteed security arrangements between Israel and a demilitarized Palestine; 3) termination of refugee status via compensation and practical rehabilitation; 4) Jerusalem the capital of Israel and Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem the capital of Palestine, with a special regime over the Old City; 5) free access and worship in the holy places; 6) finality of mutual claims.
Other incentives should also be included: curbing of incitement; full relations between Israel and Arab states; compensation for Jews who emigrated from Arab countries; free trade and movement; a peace fund; practical arrangements for relocation of settlers residing outside the blocks; and even mutual apology for suffering caused.
This formula would make Israel the Jewish democracy it set out to be, and provide freedom and statehood for the Palestinians. It would give a political context to the economic projects in the Gaza strip and engender strong support by the Palestinian moderate mainstream. Without such a long-term vision, a lasting agreement is simply not possible.
Breaking the current political deadlock over Gaza — and not returning to another one — requires more than a cease-fire and an economic rehabilitation package. It demands a strong commitment by the U.S. — along with its Quartet partners the UN, the European Union and Russia — to stay the course in a continuous, binding and gradual process that preserves the conditions for an eventual two-states-for-two-peoples solution. That is the only outcome that would meet the long-term needs and aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians. It is the most important reality that Trump’s Mideast peace team must recognize.
Ami Ayalon is a former director of Israel’s Shin Bet security service. Gilead Sher, a former chief of staff for Prime Minister Ehud Barak and chief Israeli negotiator at Camp David, heads the Center for Applied Negotiations at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies. Orni Petruschka is a tech entrepreneur in Israel. They are co-founders of the Israeli civil-society organization Blue White Future.
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