This was submitted as a letter to the Washington Post.
To the editor:
The implications of the statement from the Trump administration, that new Israeli construction outside existing Jewish communities in the disputed territories "may not be helpful" ("Trump policy on Israel is evolving in somewhat surprising ways," February 4) are interesting and suggest the possibility of a creative, new policy that may have a chance of doing the impossible: inducing the Palestinian Arabs to finally get serious about negotiating a peace agreement with Israel.
The statement clearly leaves room for the possibility that, contrary to the conventional wisdom that has been so counterproductive, Israeli construction is actually helpful.
Nearly a quarter century ago, the Oslo Accords called for a five-year transition period during which the Palestinian Arabs and Israelis would negotiate a permanent agreement. Since then, Israel has been very restrained in its building, authorizing construction almost entirely within existing Jewish communities, which will remain with Israel under any conceivable peace agreement, and refraining from establishing any new "settlements" in the disputed territories. This obviously cannot, and should not, go on forever.
President Trump and the Israeli government would be wise to embark on the following experiment.
Israel would commit to continuing to exercise its extraordinary restraint for another five years, limiting construction to the Israeli side of its anti-terror barrier and the existing Jewish communities on the other side. This would give the Palestinian Arabs another golden opportunity to come to the table without Israel doing anything that would significantly effect the parameters of any agreement.
If the Palestinian Arabs had still not made peace after five more years, Israel would resume full administrative control over Area C, as agreed under the Oslo Accords, allowing life in that area to proceed normally, while Areas A and B, including Gaza and more than 95 percent of the Arab population, would continue to be ruled by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.
Such a departure from the long-standing negative sum game, where every Arab rejection of peace, every Palestinian Authority violation of the Oslo Accords and every Palestinian terror attack is rewarded with more pressure on Israel, might be just what is needed to, for the first time ever, bring about a legitimate peace process.