An Object Lesson in How Not to Make Peace

Two events. One made headlines around the world, the other barely made a ripple. The first, the Paris “peace conference,” was meaningless. The second, a water-sharing agreement signed between Israel and the Palestinians, points the way toward a realistic solution for stability, coexistence, and — eventually — possible peace between Israelis and Palestinian Arabs.

The Paris peace conference was misguided for several reasons. One, neither of the two parties, Israel or the Palestinians, was a party to it.

Second, as is often the case at international conferences, it forced politicians to say stupid things in an attempt to appear statesmanlike. In this case, we had French President Francois Hollande equating terrorism and “settlements” as the chief threats to the two-state solution. Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely was being kind when she called Hollande’s remark “morally twisted.”

Third, was the timing, just days before the Trump administration was to take office. The 70-plus conference participants were ignoring the fact that reality has changed and the Obama-Kerry team is being replaced by a U.S. administration that has very different views on how to pursue peace between the Palestinians and Israelis. As Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said, the conference was “among the last twitches of yesterday’s world…”

Fourth, and most important, the conference reinforced the notion that the Palestinians need not negotiate directly with Israel because the “international community” will impose a solution to their liking on Israel. This is the single greatest “achievement” of Sunday’s Paris conference and it is a major setback for the prospects of peace.

Instead of addressing the problem of terror, which struck last week with the devastating truck-ramming attack in Yerushalayim that killed four, and insisting that the Palestinians end incitement and recognize Israel as a Jewish state, the international community issued vacuous statements that undermine the cause of peace.

On the other hand, in a very significant but under-reported development, we saw Israel and the Palestinians sign an agreement to renew the Joint Water Committee, set up as part of the Oslo Accords to deal with critically important water issues.

The Joint Water Committee, which hasn’t met regularly over the past six years, will now convene to work on how to modernize the water infrastructure for the sake of both Jews and Arabs in Yehudah and Shomron. It will discuss increasing water sources with new drilling, environmental issues, water tariffs and agricultural water use.

This agreement makes it possible to lay new pipes for water, sewage and effluent quickly and efficiently.

Most significantly, it is just the latest in a series of deals signed between Israel and the Palestinians that improves the quality of life in the region. “Over the past year and a half, we’ve signed four agreements: electricity, water, mail and 3G cellular infrastructure,” said Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the IDF’s Coordinator of Government Activity in the Territories (COGAT).

The spectacular failure of the Obama administration in advancing peace relates to its failure to appreciate the difference between the event in Paris — which was all show and no content — and the signing of a practical agreement that shows both sides how they benefit by cooperating and respecting each other’s rights.

In the end, the two parties have to live together in a tiny area that wouldn’t accommodate even two friendly sovereign nations, much less enemies. The key to peace, or at least co-existence, is agreements on water, electricity and the like that bear immediate fruit for both sides, increasing goodwill and mutual understanding.

The Obama-Kerry approach of browbeating Israel into freezing building in Yerushalayim, while ignoring core issues like Palestinian incitement, only served to box the sides into a corner. PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas was forced to make building in eastern Yerushalayim a casus belli, something that even Yasser Arafat didn’t do, and Netanyahu was forced to take certain stands to shore up his support among the political right.

All this is set to change on Friday, b’ezras Hashem, with the swearing in of Donald Trump as U.S. president. As Netanyahu said, “Tomorrow’s world will be different — and it is very near.”

It’s a safe bet that the author of the best-selling The Art of the Deal understands a thing or two about lowering expectations on the part of the sides, building confidence and progressing on an agreement in a way that minimizes risk.

Trump has said that bringing peace to the Middle East would be the “ultimate deal,” and he’s assigned his most capable people, including his accomplished son-in-law, to the task.

The key to success is recognizing reality and expressing clearly defined U.S. positions to both sides. As long as the Palestinians hold out hope that someone in Washington will force Israel to take reckless chances for peace, they won’t agree to any compromise.

It is our hope and prayer that the new administration truly ushers in a new world, in which both Jews and Arabs can live in peace and security.