With domestic and international problems to deal with, the United States has no time to drown itself in our conflict. Its renewed support for the Palestinian Authority has only one goal: to maintain stability.  The resemblance to Israeli interests is remarkable.

Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Gadi Shamni, Dr. Nimrod Novik

April 21, 2021 | Ynet

The recently announced renewal of American support for the Palestinian Authority (PA) is neither a concession nor a goodwill gesture. It is also no mere “anything but Trump” caprice. It is, rather, a measure that aims to balance three considerations: the needs of the PA’s civilian population, US law and the American interest in stability. In any event, it serves Israel’s security.

The needs of the Palestinian society hardly require elaboration, particularly with the economic and other ramifications of the Corona pandemic in a society with a GDP that is barely 5% of Israel’s. As for US law, as befits a properly functioning democracy with separation of powers, assistance to the PA is anchored in congressional legislation.

The third consideration, however, merits elaboration. It is no secret that the Palestinian issue does not top the US policy agenda. President Biden and his senior officials are preoccupied with COVID19 and racial tensions at home concurrent with a multitude of challenges abroad, which begin with China, continue with Russia, Iran and North Korea, and end with the need to rebuild alliances and forge a broad coalition to combat global warming. Consequently, this is not the moment for a conflict-ending effort on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

As a result, the administration’s middle management officials who are entrusted with our ‘file’ are faced with a complex situation, where superiors expect them to keep matters under control so they do not ‘waste’ the President’s, the secretary of state’s or the national security advisor’s time, yet, in the region, Israelis — accustomed to frequent conversations with, and visits to the White House — do not view them as empowered to determine policy.

Three guiding principles should underlie effective cooperation between the US, Israel and the Palestinians:  Stop the slide towards an ever-conflicted single state reality west of the Jordan River, measured steps towards separation between Israelis and Palestinians, sustaining—and improving — conditions for an eventual two-state solution.
The default approach derived from these conditions is to focus on a modest goal and measured steps to its implementation. The goal is stability. In practice this means preventing instability in a field littered with explosive charges. These include the Gaza pressure cooker that threatens to discharge steam; ongoing efforts of Hamas and other terror groups to carry out attacks in and from the West Bank against Israelis; the erosion of the status quo on Temple Mount, and more.

To this troubling menu one must add a further cause for concern: the potential for the erosion of security cooperation between the Palestinian security agencies and the IDF. Here the concern is not necessarily with leadership instructions to terminate coordination, but rather with rank and file refusal to carry out orders.

IDF, Shin Bet (Security Agency) and COGAT (Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories) officials have repeatedly informed the government and Knesset about the contribution of the Palestinian security agencies to Israel’s counterterrorism efforts.  Still, it appears that our leadership is yet to realize that declining motivation on the part of Palestinian servicemen will undermine efforts to foil terror attacks and that Israeli behavior accelerates this process.

Every move on our part that reduces hope for a political settlement of the conflict (however remote), like any mention of a unilateral annexation, exposes Palestinian security personnel to accusations – by family, friends and the general public – that they are traitors and collaborators with the occupation, who serve Israeli interests rather than Palestinian national aspirations.

With that complex setting in mind, the US administration does not demand painful concessions required for a breakthrough towards peace. What it does expect is responsible conduct.  Given that such a behavior serves first and foremost Israel’s security interests, and as current conditions both in Israel and among Palestinians, are not conducive for a negotiated agreement, isn’t this a sound basis for effective cooperation between the next Israeli government and the Biden administration?

Against the backdrop of the explosives-strewn landscape, Israeli policy must aim at stabilizing the situation, strengthening the PA and ensuring effective coordination with its security agencies. Moreover, the Corona crisis has illustrated how important a well-functioning PA is in addressing the needs of millions of Palestinians and highlighted the threat to Israeli and Palestinian lives presented by the erosion of the PA’s ability to function and to coordinate with Israel.

There seems to be an urgent need for a serious discussion inside our government, as well as between it, the U.S. and the Palestinians, to jointly decide on an action plan that while not ignoring political realities on either side, addresses the real and imminent danger of instability and risks to human lives.

Three guiding principles should underlie such an effective cooperation between the US, Israel and the Palestinians: stop the slide towards the ever conflicted single state reality between the Jordan River and the sea; reverse that slide by means of security-based, measured steps towards separation between the two peoples; and sustain — and improve — conditions for a future negotiated two-state agreement.

Maj. Gen. (res.) Gadi Shamni is a former IDF OC Central Command, military attaché in the US, and military secretary to Israeli prime ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert.

Dr. Nimrod Novik, a former policy advisor to Shimon Peres, is a member of the steering committee of Commanders for Israel’s Security, and Israel fellow at the Israel Policy Forum.