Back to the drawing board toward Middle East peace


Split-screen TV images from in and near Jerusalem earlier this week of joyous celebration juxtaposed against deadly protests illustrate starkly the wide chasm and herculean challenges that stand in the way of lasting peace in the Mideast.

Those scenes played out simultaneously as a U.S. delegation led by Ivanka Trump, daughter of President Donald J. Trump, and her husband, Jared Kushner, triumphantly opened the new U.S. Embassy in Israel’s largest city.

In a chilling backdrop, enraged Palestinians staged sometimes violent protests at the Gaza-Israel border. Those demonstrations were met with lethal force by Israeli authorities. In all, nearly 60 in Gaza were killed and about 2,700 others were injured in Monday’s bloodbath.

The protests were among the largest and latest manifestations of anger by those living in Gaza and the Occupied Territories over U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision last December to relocate the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Upon its announcement five months ago, The Vindicator was quick to question and criticize the plan:

“There are enormous challenges to achieving peace in the Middle East, but none was more difficult than reconciling the competing claims of Israel and the Palestinians to Jerusalem, a city that has had a place in Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions.

“At least since the [1978] Camp David accords, the status of Jerusalem has been subject to negotiation. Trump has now declared the most contentious negotiable issue in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians as non- negotiable.”

But now that it’s a done deal, it is up to the president and his administration to work with Israeli and Palestinian representatives to first stop the violence.

Israel and the United States can begin by reversing its rejection Friday of a United Nations Human Rights Council investigation into the recent escalation of violence along the Gaza border. Too, both countries should stop blaming the extremist Hamas governing authority for every single act of violence or ill in the region.

PATHWAYS TO PEACE BLOCKED

As long as such violence continues, the pathways to peace will remain closed. And as long as the United States gives the impression – as it did with the Jerusalem embassy relocation – that it is siding strongly with Israel in the larger mission of securing stability for all inhabitants in the region, it will be difficult to persuade Palestinian representatives to take their seats at any peace table at any time.

In the meantime, it’s hard to put too much stock in the words of diplomat-in-training Kushner at this week’s Jerusalem celebration: “This president delivered.”

Aside from a selfish and narrow victory for himself in carrying out a campaign pledge for his right-wing political base, Trump has delivered more harm than good, at least in the short term.

Fortunately, though, hope has not all been lost. That sentiment holds true for Jewish and Arab representatives across the world, including those in the Mahoning Valley.

Bonnie Deutsch Burdman, director of community relations/government affairs for the Youngstown Area Jewish Federation, said this week, “The on- going struggle for a democratic state living in peace, side by side, with a Palestinian nation, has not yet come to fruition. It is our hope that today’s activities in Israel do not prevent leaders from being able to resolve their differences and bring peace to the region.”

Sounding a similar refrain was Mousa Kassis of the Arab American Community Center of Greater Youngstown, who said at a gathering there Monday night, “Today we came here for a peaceful protest to call for a peaceful solution to what’s going on in Palestine at this time, particularly in Gaza.”

For now, the United States must work assiduously to restore its credibility, particularly among Arab residents of the Occupied Territories. Then and only then can it hope to serve as an effective and respected third-party arbiter of negotiations between the two factions. Then and only then can it hope to roll out with legitimacy its long-awaited peace proposal that the president calls “the ultimate deal.”

In the critical days and weeks ahead, it will be imperative that cool heads prevail. Let’s hope that’s not too tall an order for our president and his emissaries to pull off.

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