PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas tours Ramallah during coronavirus crisi אבו מאזו
PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas tours Ramallah during coronavirus crisi אבו מאזו Flash90

As we are seemingly moving towards the last two months of the Trump Presidency, it is helpful to look back and assess some of the effects it has had on the region, and whether they can be reversed so easily.

There is no doubt that the Trump Administration’s agenda was significantly pro-Israel. It departed from the tired and failed thinking of the past which placed all the onus on the Jewish State in the Israel-Palestinian conflict and overloaded it as the implausible gateway to ending all violence in the region.

The Abraham Accords, signing normalization agreements and opening ties with the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan, were certainly paradigm changing. They will hopefully consign the futile concept of ‘Linkage’ to the dustbin of history, where it belongs.

Nevertheless, there are those who will try and resurrect it because their professional reputations are built on it, logic and facts be damned, while others know it not to be true but wield it as leverage to ensure the American leadership’s full engagement on the conflict.

What we may see is ‘Linkage Minus’, meaning that the conflict will not be seen as the only trigger for violence, conflict and confrontation in the region, but remain one of the main ones. These analysts and advisers who held sway during the previous two decades of failed peacemaking will seek to rebrand a moribund concept into new packaging.

On the other hand, the U.S. recognizing Israel’s sovereignty on the Golan Heights and Jerusalem, and moving the U.S. Embassy there, are unlikely to be reversed under President Biden.

However, some of the other policy changes, like how the U.S. will consider Judea and Samaria in general and Israeli towns and cities there in particular will almost certainly revert to the Obama era designations of “illegitimate” and “obstacles to peace”.

President-elect Biden has already stated that he will rejoin the JCPOA, the Iran nuclear deal, with certain stipulations, even though he will hear from all the major actors in the region that it would be a terrible mistake.

Nevertheless, the one area where we are already seeing a striking reversal is in relations with the Palestinian Authority.

While President Trump closed down the PLO office in Washington DC and the American consulate to the PA in Jerusalem, and stopped providing aid and assistance to both UNRWA and directly to the Palestinians, Palestinian Authority leader Abbas was not moved one inch from his intractable rejectionism.

Although sidelined because of their absolute rejection of the ‘Peace to Prosperity’ peace plan, and any attempts to get the sides to the table, the Palestinian Arab leadership remained tied to their obstinacy.

It is clear that while the Trump Administration offered several carrots, whether taking sovereignty off the table, massive financial aid to the Palestinian Arabs, or the stick of ending aid and funding, it is clear now that the Palestinian leadership has been left standing still despite these efforts in its stiff-necked opposition.

It is clear that the stick was just not big enough.

After four years of uniquely painful moves directed at it by an American administration, the Palestinian Arabs have still yet to accept defeat in their over-100-year war of violent rejectionism against Jewish sovereignty.

Simply put, the Israel-Palestinian conflict is no closer to being ended and will almost certainly be given a new lease of life by the incoming administration.

When Israel is pressured, it emboldens the violence. When Israel is backed, terrorism subsides. If this pattern continues then we could well see a return to terrorist attacks in the coming years.
While many, if not most, Israelis will not care as the conflict has not been exceptionally bloody in recent years, history should forewarn us otherwise.

Whenever there has been significant attention given to the conflict, mostly under Democratic administrations, and pressure was placed on Israel to provide concessions and compromises, there was an uptick in violence.

During the height of the Oslo Process in the early 1990s, there were suicide bombings almost daily. Immediately after Arafat walked away from the Clinton Parameters and Ehud Barak’s offer in 2000 and 20001 respectively, the bloody Second Intifada was launched resulting in the death of over a thousand Israelis.

We also saw after the breakdown of the Annapolis Peace Conference and the unrelenting pressure by President Obama on Israel during the early years of his tenure that there was a surge in attacks on Israel from Gaza and the PA.

In fact, the last suicide terrorist attack took place in 2016. This is certainly not a coincidence.

When Israel is pressured, it emboldens the violence. When Israel is backed, terrorism subsides.

If this pattern continues then we could well see a return to terrorist attacks in the coming years.

We had a golden opportunity to ensure there would have been no return to violence by ending the conflict during the tenure of a very friendly leader, which would have been a win-win for both Israelis and Palestinians.

One could argue that the Israeli Government did not place a strong enough emphasis on ending the conflict and punishing the Palestinian Authority by demonstrating that it fought for continuing security coordination when it was going to lapse and to try and throw money at a unwilling Abbas.

The fact remains that the conflict will now return to the exact situation it left off in 2016. The Palestinian Authority, if it was weakened, was never sufficiently so and are already back to their doublespeak saying one thing in English to the international community and another in Arabic for internal purposes.

They know their victim and blameless status will be returned, which will allow them to return to a policy of terror appeasement at best and support for violence at worst.

Israel may well rue this lost golden opportunity to seek victory and defeat the Palestinians to end the conflict. Unfortunately, in this sole but vital aspect, the previous four years could have been better spent.

Nave Dromi is an Israeli commentator and director of the Middle East Forum’s Israel Office.

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