Carnegie Endowment Urges Biden To Reverse Trump’s Israel-Palestine Policies

April 22, 2021 by Daniel Mollenkamp
Sunlight peeks through clouds over a section of the West Bank Jewish settlement of Efrat, March 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

WASHINGTON – The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a think tank based in Washington, D.C., says the U.S. should discard the Trump-era Israel-Palestine policies as a first step to break the status quo.

The new report argues that the U.S. ought to establish clearer channels of accountability in the Israel-Palestine conflict, in addition to walking back some of what they consider to be the more notable roadblocks to peace in the post-Trump era. It is an approach, they say, that needs to center on the rights of both Palestinians and Israelis. 

During the Trump administration, the U.S. oversaw a few actions that critics have argued particularly undermined Palestinian stability.

A 2017 executive order moved the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, for example. The U.S. Department of State halted funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees, in a manner that a Brookings Institution scholar described as “abrupt.” The U.S. also negotiated a series of “normalization” deals between Israel and Arab nations, including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan.

The Trump administration also released a plan for a “two-state solution” that it said would bring peace.

In a report published this week, four scholars affiliated with Carnegie Endowment argued that a Biden administration decision to “jettison” the 2020 Peace to Prosperity Plan, the Trump administration’s proposal to solve the Palestine-Israel conflict, would mark a “vital” first step but that it alone would not move the conflict past the current status.

The report described the Trump plan as part of a scaffolding that “sustains occupation and is structurally incapable of delivering peace and human security.”

A paper published by Brookings Institution in 2020 characterized the plan as one that offered the Palestinians a state in name only and that in fact opened the path for unilateral annexation by Israel.

In a letter published in the Guardian last year, 50 former European prime ministers and foreign ministers equated the plan’s “two-state solution” with apartheid. 

“Peace to Prosperity is not a roadmap to a viable two-state solution, nor to any other legitimate solution to the conflict,” that letter said. “The plan envisages a formalization of the current reality in the occupied Palestinian territory, in which two peoples are living side by side without equal rights.”

Since the Biden administration came to office, the U.S. has restored funding to the UN’s relief agency for Palestinian refugees as well as “credible” U.S. engagement with Palestinian leaders. Richard Mills, then-acting U.S. ambassador to the UN, had announced the restoration in a speech before the UN Security Council in January. Mills also commented on the U.S.’s commitment to a “viable” two-state solution in the speech, which he said is the best way to ensure Israel’s future as a democratic and Jewish state.

Some, however, argue the administration does not have serious plans to “solve” the conflict. A piece published in April in POLITICO, for instance, argued that the fact the Biden administration hasn’t named a special envoy for the conflict, and that it has made no plans for a peace conference or process, is a signal that it is not a priority for the Biden team. The piece points out that Biden has not reversed the Trump decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, and it quotes people arguing that the “lack of political will” in Washington may be “putting a two-state solution out of reach.”

What is needed, the Carnegie Endowment scholars say, is an approach that avoids short-term fixes and “prioritizes” the rights and security of Israelis and Palestinians rather than maintaining a compromised peace process.

To move past the current state of affairs, the Biden administration ought to reaffirm the position that Israeli settlements are a violation of international law, they argued. 

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in late 2019 that the U.S. does not consider construction on the West Bank to be a violation of international law. The Carnegie report suggests that reverting this position would help establish accountability.

The administration should also distinguish between “Israel and its illegal settlements in all bilateral treaties and cooperation programs” and reimpose geographical restrictions on U.S.-Israel research, the Carnegie researchers said. 

“The settlements have created a sense among Israelis that achieving a two-state solution is too difficult while continuing a cost-free occupation is easy,” the Carnegie report said.

It is a view that has never been countered by the U.S., they say, because of the lack of accountability.

The Carnegie scholars argued that the U.S. should show support for efforts by multilateral bodies to distinguish between Israel and the occupied territories in law as well as establishing a means to monitor how Israel uses defense equipment provided by the U.S. so that it does not “facilitate annexation or human rights violations in the occupied territories.”

The approach requires that anti-democratic policies in both countries get discarded, the Carnegie authors claimed.

The report, which is part of an ongoing series of proposed solutions to the Israel-Palestine conflict, was authored by Zaha Hassan, Daniel Levy, Hallaamal Keir, and Marwan Muasher.

The report, Breaking the Israel-Palestine Status Quo, can be read here

A recorded presentation of the report, from an event held virtually this week, can be viewed here.

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