An Israeli-Palestinian peace deal in the foreseeable future is unachievable, as is a credible process for reaching one. Since 2002, Crisis Group has been working to advance a new, inclusive peacemaking model for Israelis and Palestinians and to reduce the likelihood of deadly conflict among Palestinians and between Israel and its neighbours.
President Donald J. Trump on 6 December 2017 declared U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, breaking decades of precedent even while saying the U.S. was not “taking a position of any final status issues”. In this Q&A, Ofer Zalzberg and Nathan Thrall, Senior Analysts for Israel/Palestine, examine what the decision means for Israelis, Palestinians and the future of their conflict.
U.S. President Trump’s 6 Dec declaration that U.S. recognises Jerusalem as Israel’s capital set back peace process, triggered protests by Palestinians that led to killings by Israeli forces, and rise in rocket launches from Gaza to Israel and Israeli strikes on Gaza. Trump said U.S. was not taking position on “final status issues” including “specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem”, while U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, attending event in occupied East Jerusalem, said he was in “Jerusalem, the holy city and the capital of the State of Israel”. Israel welcomed declaration, but Palestinians, who claim East Jerusalem as capital of future Palestinian state, and international community condemned it. At specially convened Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) summit in Turkish capital Ankara, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Abbas 13 Dec said Palestinians no longer accept U.S. role in peace process because it is “biased toward Israel” and OIC countries recognised East Jerusalem as Palestine’s capital. U.S. 18 Dec vetoed UN Security Council resolution introduced by Egypt demanding reversal of decision, which fourteen other Security Council members endorsed. President Abbas 22 Dec said that Palestinians “will not accept any plan” from U.S.. Palestinians protested throughout West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem clashing with Israeli security forces; latter 15 Dec reportedly killed four Palestinians during protests in Gaza and West Bank. Two Gazans killed in protests against Israel 22 Dec. Palestinian 10 Dec stabbed Israeli security guard in Jerusalem; Palestinian 15 Dec stabbed Israeli border police officer in Ramallah. Following Trump’s announcement non-Hamas militants in Gaza fired at least two dozen rockets at Israel; Israel responded with repeated strikes against Hamas, including 8 Dec strike that killed two Hamas members. Reconciliation between rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas stalled; PA maintained sanctions on Gaza imposed early 2017.
The collapse of U.S.-led Israeli-Palestinian talks in 2014 led to political instability, rising violence and settlement expansion. To improve his successors’ peace-making chances, President Obama should push for a new UN Security Council resolution setting out the basic parameters of a deal.
A deceptive calm on Jerusalem’s Holy Esplanade is unlikely to hold under pressure from the ongoing “third intifada”, widespread dissatisfaction among Palestinian youth and growing Jewish Temple activism. Bolstering the 1967 Status Quo arrangement remains crucial, but immediate attention must be on maintaining more recent understandings on access to the Esplanade as the religious holiday season begins.
Both Israel and Hamas recognise that another war is only a matter of time if Gaza’s fundamental problems are not addressed: the economy is a shambles; the acting government lacks the ability to collect or otherwise obtain the revenue necessary to pay salaries and provide services; and most residents cannot access the outside world.
Jerusalem’s Holy Esplanade remains at the epicentre of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. With the holy month of Ramadan underway and the Jewish high holidays soon to follow, tensions are likely to increase. Calming the conflict’s symbolic core requires more support for the site’s status quo, including Palestinian participation and encouraging religious dialogue.
To achieve a durable ceasefire, not only must Israel significantly change its policy toward Gaza, but, no less importantly, Hamas and the Palestine Liberation Organisation must take further steps to implement their reconciliation agreement in order to enable reconstruction and stabilise daily life in the Strip.
With Palestinians increasingly doubtful that the refugee question can be resolved within a two-state framework, the Palestinian leadership should seek to reinvigorate refugee communities as well as to reclaim its representation of them. When diplomacy emerges from its hiatus, the leadership will be able to negotiate and implement a peace agreement only if it wins refugees’ support or at least acquiescence.
Egyptian-Israeli relations are today at their highest level in history.
Israeli hawks who want to shut down UNRWA funding say [that] if it’s not UNRWA, then education will be provided by Hamas.
[The U.S. believes] already now that the Western Wall is part of Israel’s capital. The only way for the U.S. to appear to be honest broker is to embed a major corrective in the peace plan it intends to publish.
[The return of Assad’s forces to the border] has the potential of creating a more united front of resistance between Lebanon and Syria against Israel.
[Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would look] to consolidate the international consensus in opposition to the U.S. position and to refuse negotiations as long as there is no fair mediator.
There is a desire among Palestinians to have a different mediator other than the U.S., but for any peace process to take place Israel would have to partake in it.
Trump may have earned himself goodwill in Israel, but at the cost of inflating annexationist sentiment and stirring trouble at Jerusalem’s Holy Esplanade.
Originally published in Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Originally published in The New York Times
In this letter from International Crisis Group’s one-man outpost in Gaza to our Middle East & North Africa Program Director, our analyst there, Azmi Keshawi, describes daily difficulties, deep tensions within Palestinian ranks and the growing likelihood of a new round of war with Israel.
Originally published in The Times of Israel
As U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prepare to meet, the fundamentals of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process hang in the balance.