February 14, 2018 | House Foreign Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on Middle East and North Africa

Israel, the Palestinians, and the Administration’s Peace Plan

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Chairman Ros-Lehtinen, Ranking Member Deutch, members of the subcommittee, on behalf of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, thank you for the opportunity to testify.

Over the past year, there have been significant changes in U.S. relations with both Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA). Among them: U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state, threats to withhold assistance from the Palestinian Authority unless it undertakes reforms, and the withholding of some assistance to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) unless it provides greater transparency. In addition, there has been an attempt to counter actions taken at the United Nations to delegitimize and demonize Israel.

All this is taking place as the Trump administration endeavors to build a new regional “framework” with the Arab/Sunni states who are threatened by the hegemonic – one might say imperialist – ambitions of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which is majority Persian and Shiite. These states are less hostile to Israel – the enemy of their enemy – than ever before.

President Trump has hoped to utilize this changed architecture to revive the Palestinian-Israeli peace process and make the “ultimate deal.” Despite these steps and developments – all positive and deserving of your support and encouragement – I am going to argue that any new peace process should be seen as only preliminary. It is unlikely that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict can be resolved in the foreseeable future.

That was true a week ago for reasons I will endeavor to explain. But initiating a new and improved peace process has become even more problematic following what transpired over the weekend. Iranian forces, operating from an airbase in Syria, sent a drone into Israeli airspace. An Israeli Apache helicopter downed it. Israel then sent eight F-16s to destroy the Iranian command center in Syria. One of the jets was overwhelmed by what the Israelis describe as “massive Syrian antiair fire.” The pilot of that plane returned to Israeli airspace where he and his navigator ejected. Both survived. Their plane crashed on Israeli territory. The region is on high alert; more conflict may lie ahead.

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