As President Trump’s senior advisor, Jared Kushner, was leading delegation meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian President Abbas last week, the U.S. State Department spokesperson demurred on whether the administration supports a two-state solution, noting a preference to leave it to the parties “to work that through.” This echoes a position first voiced by Trump in February. But persistence in this approach risks undermining the administration’s own desire to broker “the ultimate deal.”

In a handout photo, Jared Kushner, left, President Donald Trump’s senior adviser, meets with President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, West Bank, Aug. 24, 2017.
In a handout photo, Jared Kushner, left, President Donald Trump’s senior adviser, meets with President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, West Bank, Aug. 24, 2017. Photo Courtesy of the Palestinian Press Office via The New York Times

Kushner’s meetings in Jerusalem and Ramallah were preceded by stops elsewhere for talks with the leaders of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. The itinerary underscores a strategy of enlisting regional support, which could be sound when employed parallel and complementary to an Israeli-Palestinian track. It holds the potential to enhance both the prospects of bilateral success and the sustainability of any agreement reached.

But equivocating on the goal of a two-state solution will be an obstacle to winning regional buy-in for Trump’s peace efforts. Earlier this year, King Abdullah of Jordan and Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi said there could be no concessions on the establishment of a Palestinian state. And the Arab League continues to affirm the Saudi-led Arab Peace Initiative, launched in 2002, which is premised on establishing a State of Palestine alongside the State of Israel.

Palestinian leaders also view the two-state framework as the essential goal for resumed negotiations. In the lead-up to last week’s meeting with the U.S. team, President Abbas and other Palestinian officials voiced a steady stream of discontent with the unwillingness of the U.S. administration to commit on this score. Abbas already is struggling to maintain legitimacy with constituents at home because he has been unable to deliver on the promise of a Palestinian state.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu is battling a corruption scandal. Loathe to alienate key supporters under such conditions, he is doubling down on opposition to withdrawing from territory.

Yet the long-holding pattern persists: a majority of Israelis and Palestinians support the idea of a peace agreement over the status quo and support the goal of a two-state solution over any alternative, albeit in declining numbers.

Certainly, overwhelming majorities on both sides don’t believe peace is achievable in their lifetimes. Israelis and Palestinians alike are cynical about their leaders, and distrustful that the “other side” is a partner for peace. But polls have shown consistently that a meaningful diplomatic process can bolster public support for a peace agreement.

The parties, under their current embattled leaderships, won’t find a way forward by themselves. The U.S., in concert with the international community, will need to lead: identifying the goal, holding the Palestinian and Israeli leaderships to account for behavior that runs contrary to that objective, and establishing incentives for creating an environment conducive to renewed negotiations.

The U.S. has vested security interests in achieving an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. Left to its own devices, this conflict festers and flares, as it did in July with the deadly violence over the Temple Mount, also known as Haram al-Sharif. And while another Israel-Gaza war is seemingly in abeyance, the humanitarian and political ingredients argue against complacency.

The senior level of U.S. engagement represented by last week’s delegation is a vital step toward motivating both sides. Defining clear expectations will need to follow.

Related Publications

Five Messages Biden Should Take from His Middle East Trip: A Regional Perspective

Five Messages Biden Should Take from His Middle East Trip: A Regional Perspective

Thursday, August 11, 2022

By: Ambassador Hesham Youssef

Before and since President Biden took office, debates have proliferated around an American “retrenchment” from the Middle East. The administration has consistently asserted that it is not withdrawing from the region, only aligning strategy and resources — “right-sizing” in the parlance of the moment. Still, most of the region remains unconvinced.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Global Policy

What You Need to Know About the I2U2

What You Need to Know About the I2U2

Thursday, July 28, 2022

By: Daniel Markey, Ph.D.;  Ambassador Hesham Youssef

As part of his visit earlier this month to the Middle East, President Biden participated in the first leaders summit of a new grouping made up of Israel, India, the United Arab Emirates and the United States. Known as the I2U2, the countries’ foreign ministers formed the bloc in the fall of 2021 to deepen technological and private sector collaboration in the region and tackle transnational challenges in six focus areas: water, energy, transportation, space, health and food security. Beyond the announcement of a food security initiative and a hybrid renewable generation facility for India, little was revealed about what’s next for I2U2.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Global Policy

Five Takeaways from Biden’s Visit to the Middle East

Five Takeaways from Biden’s Visit to the Middle East

Thursday, July 21, 2022

By: Robert Barron;  Sarhang Hamasaeed;  Lucy Kurtzer-Ellenbogen;  Michael Yaffe, Ph.D.;  Ambassador Hesham Youssef

President Biden made his first trip to the Middle East last week, visiting Israel and Saudi Arabia. While the trip yielded little in the way of flashy announcements — like new normalization agreements or Saudi Arabia boosting oil production — it did demonstrate that the United States remains focused on enhancing the region’s security architecture, particularly to counter Iran. Still, there were some notable developments, like a U.S.-Saudi agreement to build 5G and 6G telecommunications networks and Riyadh opening airspace to Israeli flights. On the Israeli-Palestinian front, the president affirmed Washington’s long-standing commitment to Israel and said that now was not the time to reengage on peace talks with the Palestinians.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Global Policy

Could Syria Have Been Saved by a U.S. Effort to Bring It to Peace with Israel?

Could Syria Have Been Saved by a U.S. Effort to Bring It to Peace with Israel?

Thursday, July 14, 2022

By: Adam Gallagher

Over a decade into Syria’s civil war, it’s hard to fathom the country at peace and integrated with the international community. The Assad regime’s brutal oppression of protests in March 2011 sparked more than 10 years of violence, conflict and tragedy in the country. But in the weeks before, there was quiet hope that a clandestine U.S. effort could broker a land-for-peace deal between Israel and Syria. For Syria, such a peace agreement would have resulted in the lifting of U.S. sanctions and financial assistance, trade and investment from the international community, giving Syrians hope for a better future.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Peace Processes

View All Publications