Trump’s Shift to ‘Outside-In’ Strategy for Mideast Peace Is a Long Shot - The New York Times
New York Times
15th February 2017
HAMAD CITY, Gaza Strip — Wail is grateful for his new apartment here in a growing neighborhood in southern Gaza. For just $140 a month, there are separate bedrooms for his three girls and two boys, as well as a guest bathroom. The complex is being built by Qatar, the Persian Gulf state that has stepped in repeatedly in recent years to help isolated, Gazans.
But there are limits to Mr. Gatshan’s thankfulness. “As a Palestinian, I would not support Qatar if they said they wanted a solution,” said Mr.
Gatshan, 44. “I want my human rights. My rights are to live without any limits or restrictions and without occupiers.
” For years, the Obama administration struggled to forge a peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians, only to run headlong into unsurmountable obstacles: a Israeli government, fractured Palestinian leadership, and an Arab world consumed by its own upheavals. Since then the barriers to peace have grown even more formidable, and attitudes like Mr. Gatshan’s more entrenched.
When President Trump and Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, meet in Washington on Wednesday they are likely to discuss a change of tactics, relying on Arab states like Qatar to help secure an solution, under which Israel and an independent Palestinian state would live . A White House official said Tuesday that Mr. Trump’s objective was peace between the two sides, but it did not necessarily need to take the form of a solution.
But even if Mr. Trump does not abandon the solution, any route to peace contains many pitfalls. The Trump administration plans to focus on an “ ” approach, meaning that Israel would first pursue agreements with Arab countries to help solve the conflict with the Palestinians.
But that is a long shot, experts say, given some of the crises gripping the region: Saudi Arabia is mired in a war in Yemen Egypt is reeling from economic and security concerns and Jordan is focused on securing its borders with Iraq and Syria. Israel’s government has moved steadily to the right, expanding settlements on land that the Palestinians and much of the rest of the world say should be part of a future Palestinian state. And the Palestinians remain sharply divided: The Palestinian Authority, backed by the United States and European powers, governs parts of the West Bank, while Hamas, a militant Islamist movement committed to Israel’s destruction, rules the coastal Gaza Strip.
Given those realities, there is little that Arab countries can do to break the deadlock, especially at a time when uprisings and wars have left them focused on domestic affairs, said Oraib the director of the Quds Center for Political Studies in Jordan. “What can Jordan or Egypt or Saudi Arabia do?” he said. “In the end, the occupation has to end, or you will have no end to the conflict.
” Historically, sympathy for the Palestinians and their quest for statehood was one of few unifying causes across the Arab world. Arab armies came together to wage wars against the Jewish state, and many governments later provided financial and military aid to armed Palestinian factions. Even after the Oslo peace accords of 1993 led to the creation of the Palestinian Authority, most Arab countries rejected formal relations with Israel on principle, considering it a usurper of Arab land.
Jordan and Egypt have peace treaties with Israel, but Israel remains unpopular with their citizens. But the prominence of the Palestinian issue in the Arab consciousness has waned in recent years, as the Arab state system has weakened because of popular uprisings and civil conflicts. Saudi Arabia and its allies in the Persian Gulf are bogged down in a war against Houthi rebels in Yemen and are increasingly worried about Iran’s influence — a concern they share with Israel.
Syria and Iraq, longtime enemies of Israel, have been locked in lengthy wars that have drained their governments’ resources and given them little time to focus on issues beyond their borders. Egypt, too, has turned inward, as its economy has worsened and a jihadist insurgency has taken root on the Sinai Peninsula. “Care is there, but attention is not,” Mahmoud Yehia, an Egyptian lawmaker, said of the Palestinian cause.
“People are dealing with all these new internal issues now, and they have been struggling economically for years and years before that. ” Supporters of the approach say that the merging of interests between Israel and Arab states like Saudi Arabia and Egypt could provide an opening. But that approach has been tried before, without success, in large measure because of deep and nearly universal Arab opposition to Israel.
Arab leaders will not dare be seen to align their interests with the Jewish state, even when there is common cause, like opposition to Iran and to terrorist groups like the Islamic State. Last year, a survey of attitudes across the Middle East by Zogby Research Services found that 41 percent of respondents in Egypt and 39 percent in Saudi Arabia considered the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands to be “the greatest obstacle to regional peace,” surpassing any other issue. So while Saudi and Egyptian leaders may collaborate with Israel privately on issues of shared interest, doing so publicly could incite a blowback from their populations.
For many Arabs, the sheer number of crises in the region leaves little energy left for the Palestinians. “There is also a growing realization among people that the region is now very chaotic,” said H. A.
Hellyer, a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, a research organization in Washington. That causes “a sense of helplessness” toward the Palestinian issue. The divisions among Palestinians also undermine support for their cause.
“Even if they wanted to do something, they don’t know who they should support now,” Mr. Hellyer said. And many Palestinians have given up on the idea of a solution.
A decade has passed since Palestinian infighting left the West Bank and Gaza under the control of competing administrations with opposing views of how to pursue statehood. Multiple rounds of talks have gained only limited benefit for the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, which supports a solution, while Hamas’s dedication to its slogan of “resistance” seems as strong as ever. On Monday, it announced that Yehya Sinwar, a member of its military wing, had been chosen as its new Gaza leader.
Others feel that too much time has passed to expect that the West Bank and Gaza can again be brought under a single authority. “It’s impossible to have a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza,” said Ibrahim Madhoun, a columnist for the newspaper Al Resala. “Now, Gaza is one thing and the West Bank is something else.
” Hamad City, where Mr. Gatshan lives with his family, is home to tidy shops, playgrounds and a mosque that will soon hold 3, 000 people. A second wing of roughly 1, 400 spacious units has just opened.
But the Qatari initiative has risen on a potent symbol of deadlock. Much of the land once belonged to an Israeli settlement, which was evacuated in 2005. Israel called it a move toward peace.
Gazans said settlers should never have been there in the first place. But Israelis complain bitterly that this evacuation showed that pulling back from settlements does not work: Militant groups, including Hamas, fired rockets into Israel. Three wars followed.
Though Hamas has declared a truce, and largely controls other groups who try to continue fighting, some Israelis say a new war in Gaza is the only way to ultimately achieve peace. Israel “cannot be the only country in the world where children cannot walk down the street without worrying that a missile will fall,” Naftali Bennett, a lawmaker and education minister, said on a visit to the fence dividing Gaza and Israel last week. “Our enemies are investing all their resources in developing ways to kill us.
” “Only with a complete victory,” he said, “can we put an end to this cycle. ”.
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