The “deal of the century”—the Trump administration’s long-awaited Mideast peace deal—could be coming as soon as next month. But not much has been announced about its contents. For that reason, most regional leaders have withheld support for the plan. Yet the administration’s secrecy, and its tendency to eschew the traditional fanfare of peacemaking, may give President Trump a leg up on his predecessors.
Recent presidents have all telegraphed their peace plans and broadcast each purported step toward progress, with the unintended effect of drawing out the fanatics who make the Israeli-Palestinian conflict so difficult to resolve. Take the Oslo Accords, signed to great fanfare in September 1993 in a ceremony Bill Clinton hosted on the White House lawn. Until then, Palestinians and Israelis had been negotiating in secret. The talks were brought out of the shadows before definitive achievements could be secured.
When the deal’s compromises were made public, opponents carried out violence to derail it. Immediately following the signing, Palestinian terror groups like Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad began a campaign of suicide bombings, designed to undercut the high-profile deal. On the Israeli side, terrorist Baruch Goldstein murdered 29 Palestinian worshipers on Feb. 25, 1994, in the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. Another example is the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by Yigal Amir, an Israeli right-wing extremist and professed Oslo opponent.
It was as if Palestinian extremists waited until the details dribbled out before setting the region ablaze.
President Clinton resumed the peace effort in his second term, culminating in a 2000 summit. When progress stalled, details of the American offer leaked, leading quickly to the second intifada, an armed Palestinian uprising that lasted until 2005. It was as if Palestinian extremists waited until the details dribbled out before setting the region ablaze.
The George W. Bush administration’s public peacemaking efforts were also spoiled by extremists. In 2003, when the U.S., Russia, the United Nations and the European Union announced their “Road map for peace,” the plan was met with violence from Hamas and fellow Palestinian group Tanzim, a militant faction within the dominant Fatah party. And soon after the failed Annapolis peace conference in 2007, three Israelis were killed in a suicide bombing in the southern city of Eilat.
Under President Obama, the “Kerry initiative” coincided with a spate of Palestinian stabbing and shooting attacks in Israel. During the same period, Israeli settlers associated with the radical “price tag” movement in the West Bank conducted frequent attacks against Palestinians, culminating in an arson attack that killed three members of the same family.
In contrast, Mr. Trump hasn’t tipped his hand. Yet eventually, Jared Kushner and special envoy Jason Greenblatt will have to unfurl their plan. The Trump White House must ensure beforehand that its rollout coordinates communication, diplomacy and security. Cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in recent years has kept tense moments from devolving into violence.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates can be particularly helpful, as they are arguably more invested in President Trump’s success because of his opposition to Iran.
The Trump administration must also wield its influence with Arab states to enlist them in the effort to prevent violence, including by preventing vitriol from their own hard-liners. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates can be particularly helpful, as they are arguably more invested in President Trump’s success because of his opposition to Iran.
The next phase will be even harder, because a plan’s release can be as important as what’s in it.
To the surprise of many, the Trump administration so far has forestalled needless violence through a novel combination of discipline and secrecy. That surely hasn’t been easy. But the next phase will be even harder, because a plan’s release can be as important as what’s in it.
Mr. Schanzer, a former terrorism finance analyst at the U.S. Treasury, is senior vice president at Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Mr. al-Omari, a former adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team (1999-2001), is a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.