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Policy Analysis

Policy Notes

Toward a New Paradigm for Addressing the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

David Makovsky and Dennis Ross

Also available in العربية

Transition 2017: Policy Notes for the Trump Administration 

January 2017

Like many of his predecessors, President Trump has come to office pledging to solve the decades-long Palestinian-Israeli conflict. In this paper, two veteran U.S. peace negotiators point out the repeated failure of past efforts to reach "all-or-nothing" solutions to this conflict, urge the president not to seek a comprehensive settlement, and instead recommend an approach based on reaching an understanding with Israel on steps that could

► preserve the potential for a two-state outcome in the future;

► blunt the delegitimization movement against Israel; and

► give the administration leverage to use with the Palestinians, other Arabs, and Europeans.

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has faded in significance in the Middle East against the backdrop of the conflict in Syria, the rise of ISIS, and the regionwide clash of Sunni and Shiite powers. Both the likelihood for a return to the negotiating table and the prospects for a two-state solution are growing dim.

In this paper, DAVID MAKOVSKY and DENNIS ROSS recommend that the United States should work to preserve the potential for a two-state outcome in the future by reaching an understanding with Israel on a differentiated approach to settlements, accepting construction in existing settlement blocs in exchange for Israeli agreement to stop building outside them. The administration would similarly ask the Israelis to demonstrate Prime Minister Netanyahu's commitment to the principle of "two states for two peoples" by forswearing Israeli sovereignty to the east of the security barrier, or on 92 percent of the West Bank, and to open up parts of what is known as Area C for economic activity for Palestinians. This area constitutes 60 percent of West Bank territory, and the proposed opening could dramatically enhance Palestinians' economic well-being. The policymakers believe that these steps would draw Sunni Arab states into peacemaking and thereby provide political cover for Palestinian leaders to reciprocate. In addition, the United States should commit to produce direct strategic gains for Israel, including a commitment to veto any UN Security Council resolution on the peace process opposed by Israel.

the authors

DAVID MAKOVSKY is the Ziegler Distinguished Fellow at The Washington Institute and director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process. In 2013-14, he worked in the Office of the U.S. Secretary of State, serving as a senior advisor to the Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations. Author of numerous Washington Institute monographs and essays on issues related to the Arab-Israeli conflict, he is also coauthor, with Dennis Ross, of the Washington Post bestseller Myths, Illusions, and Peace: Finding a New Direction for America in the Middle East (Viking/Penguin).

AMBASSADOR DENNIS ROSS, the William Davidson Distinguished Fellow and counselor at The Washington Institute, formerly served as special assistant to President Obama, as National Security Council senior director for the Central Region, and as special advisor to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. He was U.S. point man on the peace process in both the George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations.


Founded in 1985, The Washington Institute is a nonpartisan organization dedicated to scholarly research and informed debate on U.S. policy in the Middle East. Following in the tradition of seven previous presidential election cycles, the Institute's Presidential Transition Papers are designed to provide a new administration with sound analysis, creative ideas, and useful recommendations to advance U.S. interests in the Middle East.