The U.S. is mired in internal and geopolitical problems and does not have time to drown itself in our conflicts. The renewal of aid to the Palestinian Authority had one goal: to maintain stability for the moment, very similar to Israel’s own interests.
The recently announced renewal of American aid to the Palestinians is not an abandonment of Israel, or any kind of statement. It is also not a whim of “anything but Donald Trump.” We are talking about a process of balancing out the needs and interests of the three sides: the needs of the population in the Palestinian National Authority, the law in the U.S. and American interests in regional stability. And anyway, for us, it makes a positive contribution to Israeli security.
There is no need to go into detail regarding the needs of the Palestinian population, especially in the era of COVID-19 and its economic and other impacts, a society in which, to begin with, the per capita income is less than 5% of the average Israeli income. Regarding American law, as is usual in a civilized society with a law-abiding government and a democracy with separation of powers, the aid that has been approved is anchored in acts of Congress.
That being said, the third factor, that of regional stability, deserves elaboration. It is no secret that the topic of the Palestinians is not at the top of the American agenda when President Joe Biden and his senior staff are facing an internal agenda that includes dealing with COVID-19, inter-racial stresses and international pressures beginning with China, then Russia, Iran and North Korea, and finally the need to rehabilitate treaties and bring together a broad coalition to deal with climate change.
Therefore, there are mid-level professionals in the administration who are responsible for the Israeli-Palestinian sector right now. They are facing a situation in which the upper-level officials expect them to ensure that their area of responsibility does not go totally out of control, thereby requiring a waste of the president’s, the secretary of state’s or the national security advisor’s time. Beneath them — in an area that is used to a routine of frequent visits to the White House — are the officials who don’t see them as a force with the authority to navigate policy.
The default position necessitated by these facts is to focus on modest goals and measured processes for accomplishing them. The objective is stability. That means preventing an eruption in an area where explosions have been common for a long time. They need to take into consideration the Gazan pressure cooker that threatens to let off steam, the efforts of Hamas and other terror organizations to initiate attacks against Israeli targets, the exhaustion of the status quo on the White House and other issues.
To this disturbing list we should add another worrisome area: the potential undermining of the stability of security coordination between the Palestinian security organizations and the Israel Defense Forces. Here, the fear is not necessarily from leadership directives to cut off contact, but rather the lack of obedience to the leadership from below.
IDF sources, the Shin Bet and coordination of activities in the territories report to the Knesset and the government again and again on the contributions of these organizations to the war on terror. And still, it seems that on our side it is still not understood that a decrease in the motivation of the Palestinians in uniform to carry out their assignments will harm their usefulness in thwarting the terror attacks, and yet our leadership contributes in a meaningful way to diminishing that motivation.
Every display of hopelessness vis-a-vis a political agreement, far off as it may be, and every utterance regarding one-sided annexation sets up a confrontation between the Palestinians in uniform and accusations from their immediate environment, at home and in the street, because they are seen as “collaborators” and traitors who do not serve the national Palestinian vision, but rather are part of the Israeli occupation.
Against this problematic background, the American government is not demanding any painful, groundbreaking concessions from us, but there is an expectation that we will act responsibly. Now is the time to wonder if perhaps, in any case, this serves Israel’s security interests. From here there will be potential for meaningful cooperation between the next Israeli government, may it come quickly, and the Biden administration.
Against this background of explosive issues, Israel has to provide a policy that integrates processes to calm the region with efforts to stabilize the Palestinian Authority and to promise efficiency of security cooperation with its organizations. Even more, the COVID-19 pandemic made clear the importance of the existence of a Palestinian entity that can attend to the needs of the millions of Palestinians and the danger to human life — both Palestinian and Israeli.
It seems that there is room for serious discussion in the government, between it, the Biden administration and the Palestinians on consolidation of a plan of action that does not ignore the political limitations in each of the three sides, but also does not ignore the real threat to stability and human life.
Three main guiding principles should serve as a basis for fruitful cooperation between Israel, the Palestinians and the U.S.: halting the slide toward and continued conflict in the current reality of one state between the Jordan and the sea; overturning the trend by taking steps toward gradual disengagement that are based on security considerations; and preservation and improvement of conditions for a future, permanent agreement.
Major General Gadi Shamni was in charge of the Central Command, IDF military attaché in the United States, and the military secretary to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert. Dr. Nimrod Novik was the former political advisor to Shimon Peres and is a member of the steering committee of Commanders for Israel’s Security, and an Israeli colleague of the Israel Policy Forum.
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