Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority continues to pay monthly salaries to convicted terrorists and imprison Palestinian peace activists for meeting with Israelis. This is not a recipe for peace — 1,000 White House receptions and international peace summits will not bring us any closer to peace, if the process continues to empower the corrupt and impotent Palestinian Authority. The new Trump administration would be advised to concentrate on behind-the-scenes grass-roots diplomacy that strengthens those who truly want peace and not ineffective career diplomats.
As an Israeli who resides in Judea — or what this newspaper calls the West Bank — I interact with Palestinians daily. Contrary to popular belief, we drive on the same roads, shop at the same stores, work for the same companies and generally live in peace. Some 450,000 Israelis live alongside more than 1 million Palestinians, and neither population is going anywhere. Any peace plan based on the ethnic cleansing of almost half a million Israelis from our ancestral homeland is a fiction that is doomed to fail.
A new approach to peace must be built from the bottom up by investing in the people affected the most, those living side by side in Judea and Samaria. It should therefore be a priority of U.S. diplomacy to create safe spaces for dialogue between the Israelis and Palestinians.
For example, the Israeli city of Efrat, where I serve as mayor, was founded more than three decades ago, and we have fostered good-neighborly relationships with the surrounding Palestinian towns since day one. Our residents number a mere 10,000; however, we employ 1,000 Palestinian workers daily. Efrat is zoned for a population of 70,000, but its development has been restricted because of the false notion that our growth would be an impediment to peace. Imagine if Efrat were built to its potential: It would open up thousands of additional jobs for local Palestinians, creating real hope and change and breaking down barriers between our two peoples.
The Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas is an old problem that needs a new solution.
For decades, our leadership has met in secret with local Palestinian leaders because the Palestinian Authority forbids such interaction. There is much to discuss and much that can be achieved from the ground up — far away from Washington, Oslo or Brussels. We have collaborated on employment issues, and we have reached and implemented agreements on shared water-treatment facilities, road improvements and other infrastructure.
In recent months, our regular under-the-radar meetings became public events when our Palestinian friends decided open negotiations with their Israeli neighbors offered them a better standard of living than sticking with the Palestinian Authority. However, following a meeting at my home in October, four of my Palestinian guests were arrested, interrogated and held without trial by the authority, essentially for the crime of drinking coffee with Israelis.
If the new Trump administration is serious about peace, it should be made clear to the Palestinian Authority that any efforts — official and unofficial — that intimidate, threaten or harm Palestinians who choose to engage in friendly relations with their Israeli neighbors are unacceptable and will harm their relationship with the United States.
The U.S. Embassy in Israel can be a catalyst and natural home for these types of meetings, which could be the harbingers of true peace. My recent audience with Trump special envoy Jason Greenblatt in Jerusalem signified the administration’s breaking with decades of failed U.S policy, which ignored Israelis residing in Judea and Samaria and banned American diplomats from entering our communities. Instead of ignoring us, the U.S. should empower those of us willing to sit together with Palestinians to improve lives on both sides.
The American public voted for Donald Trump with the hope that he would provide new solutions to old problems. The Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas is an old problem that needs a new solution. Whether the Israelis and Palestinians ultimately choose to live in a single state or multiple states, the U.S. government should make fostering good-neighborly relations between both parties a priority of its foreign policy. It may not make immediate headlines, but it will lay the groundwork for true and lasting peace.
Oded Revivi is the chief foreign envoy of the Yesha Council, which represents the Israeli residents of Judea and Samaria.
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