Netanyahu’s Predictable Traps to Sabotage Peace

by Lara Friedman

In the weeks leading up to President Trump’s first planned trip to Israel, many observers have been waxing cautiously hopeful that, based on what Trump and officials like Jason Greenblatt have said and done thus far, the new U.S. president is serious about achieving a breakthrough on Israel-Palestine peace. Some are even suggesting that Trump’s unpredictability could be an asset in restarting a meaningful peace process. Only time will tell if the hope is justified.

But make no mistake: Trump’s unpredictability is matched by the predictability of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has spent decades honing various traps to sabotage even the most sincere and resolute peace effort.

One of these traps is the demand that, as a precondition for restarting negotiations, the Palestinians recognize Israel as the “Jewish state.” Predictably, Netanyahu set this trap in his first White House meeting with Trump. No matter that in 1993 the Palestinians recognized “the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security.” No matter that neither Egypt nor Jordan was ever required to embrace Zionism in their respective peace deals. No matter that this demand is quite understandably a non-starter for the Palestinians, as Netanyahu understands all too well.

Second is the demand that the Palestinians cease “pay-for-slay” payments to families of Palestinians killed or imprisoned by Israel (according to Palestinian sources, Israel has arrested around 40% of the total male Palestinian population since 1967). Never mind that this demand misrepresents what more accurately has been described as a decades-old social safety net. Never mind that the real cause of violence is the occupation, which engenders desperation so profound that a small number of Palestinians turn to violence even though they know that Israel’s retribution will be far-reaching. The attacker’s home—likely home to multiple generations of a family—will be sealed or demolished; fathers and brothers will be arrested; mothers and sisters will be humiliated; work permits will be canceled and bans on movement and travel imposed; entire villages will have their lives turned upside down by closures and raids. And never mind that this demand dismisses Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ longstanding security cooperation with Israel.

Third is the settlements trap. Over the past 50 years, successive Israeli governments have settled more than half a million Israeli civilians on lands occupied in the 1967 war. They have done so in defiance of international law, U.S. policy, and the spirit and goals of the peace process. Now, “pragmatic” voices from the right-wing, the center-left, and possibly even some Gulf states, are adopting Netanyahu’s call for a shift in U.S. policy to legitimize the settlement enterprise for the first time in history. This trap is perhaps the most insidious of all, with such a shift in policy touted as an easy way to neutralize an issue that has been a source of endless conflict with Israel and promote peace.

In reality, such a shift would give a green light for settlement construction—defined by vague terms like “settlement blocs” or the “contours” of existing settlements—over huge areas of land, dipping deep into the West Bank and surrounding East Jerusalem. Expanded settlement construction would take off the table the minimum requirements for a Palestinian state. It would render land swaps—agreed, limited, and equal—unworkable. And it would make a viable, contiguous Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem impossible. In short, on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the occupation and the 25th anniversary of the peace process, it would foreclose the possibility that negotiations and diplomacy will resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict, pushing both Israelis and Palestinians to pursue instead zero-sum, violence-driven outcomes.

Those are just the biggest of the predictable traps. Others include demands that an Israel-Palestine peace agreement resolve the claims of Jews from Arab countries, calls for changes to Palestinian textbooks, and attacks on the PA for incitement. Then there’s Netanyahu’s tool chest of “hardy perennial” anti-peace arguments, like the “ethnic cleansing/judenrein” canard, the “defensible borders” gambit, and, of course, the claim that “now is not the time for peace.”

Trump is indeed highly unpredictable; Netanyahu is not. If past is prelude—as it has been, over and over, with peace efforts—then it can be predicted with a high degree of certainty that Trump will face these and similar traps if he moves ahead with trying to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace. Navigating these traps will require not just unpredictability but political will, starting with a readiness to stand up to Netanyahu in a way that no president has done before.

Lara Friedman

Lara Friedman is the president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace (FMEP). With more than 25 years working in the Middle East foreign policy arena, Lara is a leading authority on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, with particular expertise on the Israeli-Arab conflict, Israeli settlements, Jerusalem, and the role of the U.S. Congress. She is published widely in the U.S. and international press and is regularly consulted by members of Congress and their staffs, by Washington-based diplomats, by policy-makers in capitals around the world, and by journalists in the U.S. and abroad. In addition to her work at FMEP, Lara is a non-resident fellow at the U.S./Middle East Project (USMEP). Prior to joining FMEP, Lara was the director of policy and government relations at Americans for Peace Now, and before that she was a U.S. Foreign Service Officer, serving in Jerusalem, Washington, Tunis and Beirut. She holds a B.A. from the University of Arizona and a Master’s degree from Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service; in addition to English, Lara speaks French, Arabic, Spanish, (weak) Italian, and muddles through in Hebrew.



  1. Lara seems unaware that Israel is only saying it should be allowed to be seen as a Jewish state, which is quite reasonable, as the UN established it for that very purpose, and there are 50 or so self-declared Islamic states in the world. Palestine, when it finally gets off the ground, can also declare itself to be an Islamic state, if it so chooses.

    Israel demolishes the homes of terrorists who kill Jews. All Middle Eastern countries demolish the homes of those who carry out terrorist acts.

    Hamas would love Lara.

  2. Lara writes clearly, concisely and on the point. Thanks you for this latest item.

    Poor Tony Riley has the usual zionist non-answers. Palestine, unlike Israel, is not trying to be a theocratic restrictive State, simply a country where Palestinians of any faith can live as free people. Calling those who resist the illegal occupation “terrorists” is just the usual name-calling. Violence from the occupied population is tiny compared with that of the “IDF”, and legally those oppressed can respond, even with violence, but Israel overwhelms them.
    As for Hamas, they were legally elected in 2006,but not allowed to take over. It is easy to criticize any Party, but look at the racist lot in Israeli politics.

  3. The Pals are only oppressed by Hamas and Fatah.

    Israel left Gaza in 2005, and Hamas has started and lost 3 wars since then.

    Christians are persecuted in Gaza, and their numbers have dropped to under 1,500, as Hamas continues to turn Gaza into an Islamic Caliphate.

    Israel only retaliates to Hamas attacks. Hamas deliberately fires missiles at Israeli civilians, which is classified as a real war crime.

    Keep puffing away on your crack pipe.

  4. I think the only one smoking a crack pipe here is you Tony. While I support your democratic right to post here, I think it would better if you run along now and join the rest of your RWNJ buddies over at Breitbart.

    And by the way, contrary to what Fox News is telling you, Trump is making an absolute mess of his presidency (unless of course you’re looking at it from China’s point of view – they can’t believe their luck with the “useful idiot” that American voters have gifted to them).

  5. I agree that Trump is an idiot: it’s a given.

    I don’t watch Fox, or read Breitbart, or even vote for Netanyahu – it’s Lapid for me.

    Eventually Abbas, or his replacement, will have to stop talking out of both sides of their mouths, as you can’t assert that you want peace, to the West and the Israeli government, while, at the same time, teaching children in PA schools, that the Jews will be driven off their land.

    Similarly, Israel is perfectly within its rights to demand that the PA stops paying wages/a pension to the families of convicted murderers: it’s really not civilised behaviour. The British government has recently demanded the same, and other governments, such as the French and Germans, will soon follow.

    When’s the next Palestinian election?

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