Why Trump’s decision on Israeli settlements will speed the peace

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets heads of regional councils in Jewish settlements at the Alon Shvut settlement, in the Gush Etzion block in the occupied West Bank November 19, 2019.

Menahem Kahana | REUTERS

Monday’s announcement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that the U.S. government does not see Israeli settlements as inherently in violation of international law has many politicians and pundits predicting the move will reduce the already slim chances for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

They’ve got it exactly wrong.

In fact, a formidable mix of history and common sense shows that this decision is more likely to bring more peace and cooperation to the region.

Before delving into that history and reasoning, it’s important to get a full picture of the Trump administration’s key pro-Israel moves since it came into office. Most summaries of the Middle East policies from this White House will likely mark this as its third key pro-Israel step, along with the decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

But a fourth often-overlooked move was the Trump administration’s work with Congressional Republicans to pass the Taylor Force Act in early 2018. That law, signed by President Trump in March 2018, enacted cuts in significant amounts in U.S. funding for the Palestinian Authority until the P.A. ceases paying stipends to the family members of jailed or killed terrorists.

The act was named in honor of American veteran Taylor Force, who was stabbed to death by a Palestinian terrorist while Force was on a graduate school visit to Israel in 2016.

The U.S. is embracing reality and every time the U.S. has embraced realities instead of hopeful fictions in the Arab-Israeli conflict, peace eventually ensues.

Because Force’s murderer was killed in the midst of his stabbing spree, his family received the P.A. stipend. Thanks at least indirectly to the Taylor Force Act, the U.S. cut $200 million in aid to the Palestinians in 2018.

Taken together, the four moves by the Trump administration send the same key message to the Middle East and the entire world. That is, the U.S. is embracing reality and every time the U.S. has embraced realities instead of hopeful fictions in the Arab-Israeli conflict, peace eventually ensues.

Here are those current and enduring realities: Jerusalem is the real and functioning capital of Israel and has been for more than 70 years. The Golan Heights is a vital strategic, cultural, and economic part of the country that the Israelis will never give up. Jewish Israelis building homes in previously undeveloped and uninhabited land, despite competing historical claims on that land is a phony excuse for terrorism. The Palestinian leadership uses a major chunk of foreign aid money to directly fund and indirectly support terrorism.

By contrast, falsehoods and false hopes fuel war and terror. One of the biggest false hopes is that the Arabs are often convinced that Israel is just a temporary thing. There’s always been a running belief that with enough political and military pressure, the Jews will pack up and leave.

Good things have happened multiple times when Arab leaders get the message that the Israelis are there to stay. The late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat figured this out after his Yom Kippur War invasion plan failed, thanks in no small part to then-President Richard Nixon’s decision to resupply the Israel Defense Forces.

Sadat then realized the U.S. would never back down from its support for Israel and peace was the better move. Just four years after the Yom Kippur War, Sadat made his historic visit to Jerusalem despite the fact that in the interim years, Nixon had resigned and the Democrats had won the White House. The peace between Egypt and Israel has now lasted for more than 40 years.

A similar result came after the U.S.-Israel bond became even stronger during the first Gulf War. Saddam Hussein attempted to destroy the U.S.-Arab coalition against him by launching Scud missiles directly into Tel Aviv. But Israel’s promise to the U.S. not to interfere in the war held firm and the U.S. rewarded Israel with more military support. King Hussein of Jordan then realized that his better move was to cut ties with Iraq and make some kind of peace deal with Israel instead. He did just that in 1994.

Iran nuclear deal consequences

More recently, U.S.-Israeli political and military cooperation has played a major role in Saudi Arabia’s de facto peace with Israel. The Iran nuclear deal in 2015 forced the Saudis to reconsider their alliances as they became convinced the deal would guarantee, rather than stop its rival Iran from getting nuclear weapons.

The joint development and stealth capacity improvements made by Israel and the U.S. to the F-35 Joint Strike stealth jet fighter also brought Saudi Arabia into a new realm of reality and cooperation with Israel. That is likely playing a role in Saudi Arabia’s current push against Hamas, which includes cutting off funding to the Gaza-based terror group.

It’s still important to remember that U.S. policy on Israel still can’t directly influence every factor that plays into the day-to-day hostilities in the region. For example, last week’s 400-plus rocket barrage on Israeli civilian areas launched by Palestinian Islamic Jihad was in response to Israel’s decision to assassinate that group’s leader in a surgical strike.

Islamic Jihad, like Hamas and Hezbollah, is funded mostly by Iran. The Trump administration has only indirectly made a dent there by working to choke off Iran economically by imposing harsher sanctions and exiting the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Also, Iran’s backing of those groups over the years has helped them amass a large cache of weapons that would take years for them to fully utilize.

But none of that changes the realities that everyone needs to recognize if a more peaceful co-existence is to come between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Any peace deal built on anything less than the facts won’t last anyway.

Jake Novak is a political and economic analyst at Jake Novak News and former CNBC TV producer. You can follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.

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