December 17, 2018

Why J Street should welcome Trump and Friedman

The way his critics have bludgeoned David Friedman—the right-wing New York lawyer nominated to be the next United States Ambassador to Israel– you would think they’re afraid he will barge into Israel-Palestinian peace talks on his first day in office and yell, “Stop! No more peace talks!”

Before we join the frenzy against Trump’s nominee, let’s take a memory pill.

Under the stewardship of President Barack Obama, the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process” went from the emergency room into a state of deep coma. That’s nearly eight years of less than nothing. Even a celebrated leftist like A.B. Yehoshua now admits that the prospect for a two-state solution has reached a point lower than the Dead Sea.

A good place to start explaining this calamity is Obama’s first move on the peace process. It was not to demand that the Palestinian leadership accept Israel’s offer to sit down for peace talks without preconditions, or to demand that the Palestinian leadership stop the teaching of Jew-hatred and glorifying of terrorism.

No, Obama’s breakthrough idea to restart peace talks was to demand something the Palestinians themselves never asked for: A draconian freeze of all Jewish construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, impacting nearly half a million Jews, something no Israeli government could deliver.

Talk about getting off on the wrong foot.

Not surprisingly, Obama’s unilateral pressure on Israel chased the Palestinians away. Why should they demand less than Israel’s ally to restart peace talks? How could they look less Palestinian than the American president?

Obama’s extreme focus on Israel gave the corrupt Palestinian Authority (PA) an incentive to cash in on the status quo. Since Obama put no real pressure on them to return to the table, the PA simply continued to bash Israel in international circles and collect billions in international aid.

The ailing and fragile peace process never recovered from Obama’s blunt hit on Israel. The leader of the free world had laid down the gauntlet and reinforced the narrative of Israel’s enemies: Israel was primarily to blame for the absence of peace, with the main culprit being any Jewish construction beyond the Green Line. 

Enter Donald Trump and David Friedman.

You know why Palestinian leaders are probably shaking in their boots right about now? Because they know the party’s over. They know that Trump won’t fall for their crying games. They know that if and when they rush again to United Nations Plaza in New York City to initiate more Israel bashing, Trump will send them right back to Ramallah and Jerusalem, the only cities where a deal can be forged.

This should be good news for anyone interested in peace– but few people want to see it that way. It’s a lot easier to jump on the bandwagon and beat up Trump’s choice of ambassador since he’s such a scary right-winger.

But if you’re serious about peace talks, the question is not scary right-winger or scary left-winger but this: Will the new administration be more likely to get the Palestinians back to the negotiating table?

Evidently, J Street doesn’t see things that way. In a blistering statement, the organization called Friedman “a leading American friend and funder of the settlement movement,” and lacking in “any diplomatic or policy credentials.” The statement called him “reckless” and “disqualifying,” and concluded by calling on “all friends of Israel who believe its future, democracy and security depend on a two-state solution and effective American leadership… to join us in opposing this nomination.”

Friedman criticism aside, the phrase “effective American leadership” is delusional. When it comes to the peace process, Obama’s leadership has been a disaster. Even if we say that the president had good intentions, the end result is a peace process paralyzed by cardiac arrest.

You don’t revive a cardiac arrest patient with vitamins or chamomile tea. Your only chance is a high energy electric shock to the heart through the chest wall, otherwise known as a defibrillator. 

Donald Trump is that high energy electric shock to the heart; Friedman and others are there to follow his voltage. If Prime Minister Netanyahu is serious about his talks without preconditions, Trump will help him get there.

You may have a nasty taste in your mouth for outspoken types like Trump, but you can’t deny two things. One, he is not ruling out a two-state solution, and two, he will bring a defibrillator to the operation. 

That operation won’t happen in the hypocritical halls of the United Nations or Europe. It will take place in the midnight salons of Ramallah and Jerusalem, where two longtime foes will finally get to enter the same room.