Last week’s U.S.-led Warsaw Conference brought together more than 60 countries to discuss peace and security challenges in the Middle East. The conference underscored U.S.-European tensions over Iran and the growing rapprochement between Israel and Arab states, and led many to believe the Trump administration will soon be releasing its Middle East peace plan, says Lucy Kurtzer-Ellenbogen.

On Peace is a weekly podcast sponsored by USIP and Sirius XM POTUS Ch. 124. Each week, USIP experts tackle the latest foreign policy issues from around the world.


Tim Farley: Last week, Vice President Mike Pence was in Warsaw urging members of the community of Europe to join the United States in resisting the execution of the JCPOA that is to withdraw as the U.S. did from the agreement, the Iran nuclear deal. He got a lot of stony silence, if you will, as he was speaking.

VP Mike Pence: I make you a promise on behalf of the President of the United States and the American people, if you stand with us in this noble cause, we will stand with you. Together we will embrace a shared future building on the best traditions of the past.

Tim Farley: Indeed a lot of what happened at that conference last week kind of underscored differences between the U.S. and European approach to the issues. Let's talk a little more about what's going on in the Middle East with Lucy Kurtzer-Ellenbogen, who is director of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Program at the USIP, United States Institute of Peace. The Twitter handle is @usip.

Tim Farley: Lucy, welcome, thanks for being here.

Lucy K.: Thank you for having me on.

Tim Farley: There was a stony silence it seemed, after many of the statements made by the Vice President last week.

Lucy K.: Yes, there was, and, in fact, this conference really underscored, as you mentioned, a lot of indicative dynamics at play right now in alliances around this issue. The conference, it was called by the U.S. and hosted by Poland. It underscored a lot of things. It underscored tensions in the U.S.-European relationship vis-à-vis Iran, as we just heard. A number of key European allies sent low-level representation.

Lucy K.: But, it also did a number of other things that highlighted the break in Palestinian engagements with the U.S. The Palestinians didn't attend. It also put on display particularly around this Iran issue, the growing rapprochement that we're beginning to see between Israel and the Arab states. Finally, and, related to the above, it also injected some sense that a Trump Administration peace plan may be closer to being released, so many things happening at this conference.

Tim Farley: All right, so, if there is a Trump peace plan, is there any sense of what the broad parameters of that kind of an agreement might include?

Lucy K.: No, there is not. I don't think anything at this summit revealed any of that. Jared Kushner was there. He rarely speaks on these things. Our understanding is that there was some discussion of plans that primarily focused on what I think we do know will be an economic component of the plan.

Lucy K.: But, beyond that, we don't know much at this point. We think we know at this point that it won't be released before April 9th, which is the Israeli elections date. But, how long after that, how soon after that, we still don't know. They may not yet have decided.

Lucy K.: Again, the devil is very much in the details of this plan, what those political contours of the plan will be will very much drive what the reactions of the relevant players will be.

Tim Farley: Lucy, to the point of that April 9th election, it seems that every coalition that the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been managing to cobble together has become more and more fractious over time and more unwieldy. But, it does seem that he is headed that way. Is that the sense right now is that he's on his way once again to leading the government?

Lucy K.: That is the sense right now. Of course, you can never account for what surprises may happen. We've still got time, but that does seem very much the sense.

Lucy K.: Again, getting back to this issue of if/when a peace plan comes out, one of the questions in timing is, how does that play into it? Does it come out after the Israeli elections? Their system is set up such that there are two months essentially for the winning party to form its coalition. One of the questions, of course, might be, how that might factor in, and what the different coalitions may or may not do when presented with a peace plan that the US would put forward.

Tim Farley: Lucy Kurtzer-Ellenbogen with us, director of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Program at the United States Institute of Peace. I wanted to see if there's a way that we can understand whether U.S. politics plays at all into the dynamic of these discussions taking place overseas. Some problematic tweets for Democrats, Ilhan Omar, who is a Democratic congresswoman, had to apologize for some tweets that accused her of being anti-Semitic because of their seeming embrace of BDS, the sanctions, anti-Semitic sanctions approach to the issue.

Tim Farley: I just wondered, does that at all figure into the conversation, that the US is dealing with this internally, or is that just considered US business?

Lucy K.: Well, this is very much a U.S. dynamic right now. You're beginning to see, and this has been something you've been seeing develop over a number of years. Traditionally, and still, the US-Israel relationship has very much been a bipartisan issue in the United States.

Lucy K.: Over the last few years, you've been seeing a lot of discourse around this idea of, is this becoming more of a partisan issue? Are you seeing more support among the Republican Party than the Democratic Party in the United States?

Lucy K.: This question is being underscored a little bit more with some of the newer members of the party, of the Democratic Party, who are less centrist, if you will, on these issues than the Democratic Party has been. This currently, right now, again, is playing out on the U.S. domestic front and has not yet. We'll see how this moves forward, again, how it might relate to any foreign policy moves the U.S. might make particularly with regard to a peace plan.

Tim Farley: How does Saudi Arabia figure into this? I understand there's a sense that Saudi Arabia and Iran are both seeking the same thing, hegemony in that region, but the United States has leaned more towards Saudi Arabia. Often to its detriment because of the PR problems if nothing else, with the idea that maybe it was the Crown Prince who was behind the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. But, Israel's been relatively quiet on that. Do they feel better about that particular enemy than Iran?

Lucy K.: Well, certainly, one of the common ground issues, and, again, we saw this on display very much at the Warsaw Ministerial just last week, is that Israel and Saudi among some other states in the region have really found common ground and with the U.S. currently on the idea that Iran is really the biggest threat to the region. From Israel's perspective, where they can find common ground on that, this is an important relationship to foster.

Lucy K.: Again, there are not official relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia. And one of the questions that everybody is asking is, is there a ceiling to this growing rapprochement, for these relations between Israel and the Arab states vis-à-vis Iran, and is that ceiling progress on the Israeli-Palestinian track?

Lucy K.: Traditionally, the wisdom on this has been that the Arabs will only go so far when it comes to normalization of Israel relations, until there is a resolution to the Palestinian issue.

Tim Farley: It seems we are, as often is the case, as many questions as there are answers, probably more questions than answers right now.

Lucy K.: That is certainly, as always, the case.

Tim Farley: All right, Lucy, thank you so much for joining us on POTUS today.

Lucy K.: Thank you very much for having me on.

Tim Farley: Lucy Kurtzer-Ellenbogen is director of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Program at the USIP, United States Institute of Peace, taking the temperature of the possible Mideast peace program. Maybe something's going to be announced. It might wait til after the April 9th election is Israel, but we shall see how it moves forward. The Twitter handle is @usip.

Related Publications

Using Smart Power to Counter Iran in Iraq

Using Smart Power to Counter Iran in Iraq

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

By: Dr. Elie Abouaoun; Molly Gallagher

Beginning with the early January killing of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani, the first months of 2020 have seen a spike in long-simmering tensions between the U.S. and Iran. Those tensions have largely played out within the borders of Iran’s western neighbor, Iraq, just as they have for much of the last 17 years. Still bearing the battle scars from years of war, few in the region want to see an escalation to more overt conflict. And after nearly two decades, the American public has clearly demonstrated its own fatigue with endless wars. The question remains, then, how can the U.S. achieve its objectives in regard to Iran and Iraq without military action?

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Conflict Analysis & Prevention

What You Need to Know about Iran’s Coronavirus Crisis

What You Need to Know about Iran’s Coronavirus Crisis

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

By: Garrett Nada

Iran’s outbreak has been the worst in the Middle East by far and there are concerns that the pandemic’s spread is significantly worse than reported by Iranian authorities. The virus hit at a particularly bad time for Iran with the economy already suffering from the impact of U.S. sanctions. USIP’s Garrett Nada discusses the debate over the number of cases, Tehran’s decision to ease containment measures, and whether the coronavirus crisis could open the door to de-escalation with the United States.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Fragility & Resilience; Global Health

 Sarhang Hamasaeed on Iran and Iraq Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

Sarhang Hamasaeed on Iran and Iraq Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

Thursday, March 19, 2020

By: Sarhang Hamasaeed

As the coronavirus pandemic spreads in both countries, USIP’s Sarhang Hamasaeed examines the obstacles facing Iraq’s newly appointed prime minister, as well as whether addressing the crisis might open the door for de-escalation between the U.S. and Iran, saying, “I do hope that these unfortunate challenges still come with some opportunity.”

Type: Podcast

Democracy & Governance; Global Policy

Iran’s Parliamentary Polls: Hardliners on the Rise, Reformists Ruled Out

Iran’s Parliamentary Polls: Hardliners on the Rise, Reformists Ruled Out

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

By: Garrett Nada

Iranians head to the polls on February 21 to elect their next parliament. Following the violent suppression of protests in November and the accidental shooting down of a Ukrainian passenger plane in January, many are deeply disillusioned with Iran’s political system. Most reformist candidates have been barred from competing in the election, leaving voters with virtually no alternative to hardliners. The elections come as U.S.-Iran tensions are simmering after the killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani and as the country’s economy is foundering. USIP’S Garrett Nada looks at what issues are on the top of voters’ minds and how foreign policy will factor into the vote.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Democracy & Governance

View All Publications