The U.S. Should Not Be a Neutral Peace Mediator

Abbas says Trump's America cannot be a neutral mediator between Israel and the Palestinians, and he is right

In this May 23, 2017 file photo, President Donald Trump shakes hands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas after making statements to the press in the West Bank City of Bethlehem.
Evan Vucci/AP

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says the United States cannot be a neutral mediator between Israel and the Palestinians, and he is right. Of course the United States, the world’s leading democracy, cannot be a neutral mediator between democratic Israel and the Palestinians, be they the Palestinian Authority led by Abbas or the leaders of Hamas, both of them the very antithesis of democratic rule and the values of modern democracies.

What’s more, the United States should not be a mediator between Israel and the Palestinians. It cannot and should not be neutral in a conflict between its ally Israel and those who are in conflict with Israel, just as it cannot be a neutral mediator in a dispute between democratic Japan and autocratic Russia.

When the United States attempts to mediate between Israel and the Palestinians, as President Bill Clinton did between Benjamin Netanyahu and Yasser Arafat at the Wye River plantation in 1998, and between Ehud Barak and Arafat at Camp David in 2000, it is not being true to itself and is bound to fail. How can the United States be neutral in a conflict between the leader of a democratic country and a terrorist?

Actually, there is no need for a mediator between Israel and the Palestinians. There is no substitute for direct negotiations. Yet, as has been shown time and time again, the Palestinians are not interested in carrying out direct negotiations with Israel that could lead to the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Hamas, because it openly seeks Israel’s destruction, and Abbas because he knows he does not have the authority to agree to any sort of compromise, nor the ability to enforce an agreement if it were to be reached.

Abbas, in the mistaken belief that he can bypass negotiations with Israel, is seeking international recognition through the United Nations as a substitute for reaching an agreement with Israel. The automatic majority that any anti-Israel motion at the UN enjoys provides him with the opportunity to stage dramatic spectacles there that are in the final analysis meaningless.

The UN General Assembly resolution opposing U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is a clear demonstration that UN votes on matters concerning Israel are the result of preconceived notions held mostly by nondemocratic states, many of whom do not recognize Israel, rather than an expression of moral values held by most of the participating representatives. The co-sponsors of the resolution rejecting the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital were Turkey and Yemen. Need more be said? The “overwhelming” majority that voted in favor of the Turkish-Yemeni resolution simply illustrated the UN’s composition, in which nondemocratic states have a majority, and the lack of principles that dictate the behavior of this international body.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak gave expression to the views held by many who decided to “defy” the United States at the UN. At a rally in Malaysia he said: “There are 1.6 billion Muslims and only 13 million Jews. It does not make sense if 1.6 billion lose to the Jews.” Some of the Western European states that joined Malaysia, Yemen and Turkey in the UN vote might have second thoughts, seeing who their bedfellows were. If this vote is an expression of world leadership then the world is really in a bad way. Some of those who cheered the “slap in the face” the United States and Israel received at the UN must be feeling a little contrite by now.

As for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, its resolution at this point seems farther away than ever. The Palestinians do not have a cohesive, coherent leadership. Their unity is demonstrated only when it comes to backing acts of terror. That is the tool that they have chosen in dealing with Israel. They believe that time is on their side and that terrorism will win the day. They are wrong. The recent UN vote has only weakened their case.