In December of 2016, the outgoing secretary of state John Kerry expressed the conventional wisdom in policymaking circles when he said that Israel and those who wish it well must accept the “hard reality” that “there will be no advanced and separate peace with the Arab world without the Palestinian process and Palestinian peace.” The recent agreements Jerusalem concluded with Dubai and Manama show just how wrong Kerry was. Yet as Lewis Libby and Hillel Fradkin point out, there has long been a minority of observers, Benjamin Netanyahu among them, who have never uncritically accepted that conventional assessment:
[This] minority viewed European and American indulgence of Palestinian intransigence as contributing to the failures [of the peace process] by feeding Palestinian leaders’ hopes that, despite their intrinsically weak position, Palestinian suffering would leverage world opinion into forcing upon Israel ever greater concessions. The minority decried Palestinian leaders’ declared aim: forcing Israeli acceptance of millions of so-called “Palestinian refugees” within its borders, a result which would have meant, and was intended to mean, the end of Israel as an independent state.
Through these years, Palestinians’ supporters contended that failure to support their expansive claims would ruin not just Israeli, but American relations with angry, oil-rich Arab nations and the broader Islamic world. Israel’s leaders, in particular Netanyahu, eventually undertook to test that premise. Israel could win peace with some Arab states, Netanyahu argued, through a policy, of “peace for peace.” This was the policy Kerry ridiculed in his final days in office, but Netanyahu proved right and Kerry wrong.
Rather than admit their mistakes, some defenders of the old order have insisted that the recent advances in peacemaking are not all that significant, or as the editors of the New York Times put it, “good but not that good.” One former Clinton-era diplomat, more willing than others to own up to his mistakes, simply noted that the Trump administration, like its precursors, failed to solve the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Libby and Fradkin respond:
[N]ot quite. Oslo’s failures persisted over 25 years. The current American plan successfully enhanced peaceful relations between Israel and moderate Arab states as both an end in itself and as a possible precursor to progress with Palestinians. Peace between Israel and its neighbors is the more important regional concern, not just for American interests but for these Arab states as well. And by undermining Arab support for Palestinian leaders’ excessive claims, the recent deals add pressure for a reasonable compromise leading to a solution.