New US Policy in the Middle East and Fate of the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process

20.02.2018

The fourth session of the Valdai Club Middle East conference was devoted to the prospects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict settlement. Irina Zvyagelskaya, moderator of the session, noted that until recently it seemed that this confrontation went to the background, but the decision of the US administration to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel again brought it to the forefront.

The analysis of the changed position of the US on Jerusalem was presented by Mikhail Bogdanov, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia. He recalled that at the end of December 2016, then Secretary of State John Kerry, who seriously believed in the possibility to reach a negotiated solution on the basis of universally recognized parameters of the Palestinian-Israeli settlement, summed up his shuttle diplomacy in a statement to the press. As the Russian diplomat noted, the outlined approaches radically differ from the current position of the White House.

According to Bogdanov, Donald Trump put into question the very basic principle of the "two states". The Americans mention it with the reference to the fact, that it is possible only with the consent of the Israelis themselves and the Palestinians, in practice this means linking the solution of this issue with the position of Israel as a stronger party in the conflict.

Thus, the principle of "two states" is under threat, the deputy minister said. The point of no return is rapidly approaching, and there remains the only option - one state that does not suit either side of the conflict. The Palestinians do not intend to abandon their national aspirations, and the Israelis want to preserve the Jewish character of the state. If the Palestinian territories join it, the Israelis may be threatened for demographic reasons.

According to Hossam Zaki, Assistant Secretary General of the League of Arab States, the refusal of the two-state solution will have the most negative consequences. There are reasons to believe that the Palestinians are ready to give up violence and confine themselves to political means to achieve their national goals, but Trump's decision can change this dynamics. Zaki noted, that in the Arab world, divided by contradictions on a number of issues, there is no split regarding the fate of Palestine.

The conflict with Palestine has a strong impact on the mood in Israeli society. Sahar Alqawasmi, Member of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) noted, that the growth of right-wing sentiments will lead to an escalation of tension. But at the same time, there are forces in Israel that are in favor of adopting a position that corresponds to the interests of the Palestinian people.

Daniel Levy, President of the US/Middle East Project, suggested to look at Trump's decision from a different perspective. According to him, the US has never had the political will to resolve the conflict on the principle of two states. Therefore, perhaps it makes sense to take advantage of the current situation to review the principles of a peaceful settlement. According to him, the Oslo principles, worked out a quarter of a century ago, are becoming obsolete, and instead of returning to an ineffective peace process, it is necessary to work out the structure of a new settlement. The “Middle East Quartet" did not satisfy expectations, Levy said. 

Earlier, during the first session of the conference, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that the leader of Palestine Mahmoud Abbas called for the reform of the "quartet" during talks in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin. "President Abbas [...] advocated the return of the role of the" quartet "and not to create a situation where one tries to usurp intermediary functions. But he also said that the "quartet" should be strengthened and expanded, first of all, with the engagement of the Arab states," the head of Russian diplomacy said.

Amos Yadlin, Major General (ret.), Executive Director of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), presented the Israeli viewpoint on the Middle East settlement in the context of the White House’s decision on Jerusalem. Everyone talks about a decision on the two states principle, but when it comes to specific parameters of the settlement, disagreements begin, Yadlin said. In particular, the list of Israeli demands for Palestinians includes the recognition of Israel and the refusal of refugees to claim their return to their homes outside the borders of the newly created Palestinian state. 

According to Yadlin, it is nonsense to say today that it is worth settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and all other problems of the Middle East will be resolved by themselves. The retired military confirmed the official position of Israel, that Iran is the main threat to peace in the Middle East.

Moreover, Yadlin expressed his satisfaction with the words of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that Russia does not accept the calls to "wipe Israel off the face of the earth", sounded from some Iranian officials. According to him, this statement of the Russian minister during the first session, made headlines of the Israeli media.

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