The US can’t punish the Palestinians into negotiating

The Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington. (photo: Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty Images)
Diplomacy as coercion goes against everything American foreign policy stands for.

By Dana Allin and Steven Simon | The New York Times | Sep 17, 2018

Sanctions and deterrence should always be part of the American diplomatic arsenal. But punishment for its own sake is not how the United States traditionally conducts diplomacy. Nor is there much evidence that punishment works — just ask Israel, which has been using it for years to try to wring Palestinian concessions.

Are President Trump’s advisers checking his worst impulses? From trade to NATO, we’ve been assured that the “adults” in the White House are working quietly to prevent the president from following through on his often erratic foreign policy proclamations.

In fact, many of those advisers are leaving their own mark on American international relations by amplifying the president’s instincts or, in some cases, using the opportunity to advance their own radical agendas. While we focus on the president’s latest utterances, they have been fundamentally altering the direction of United States foreign policy, from one based on cooperation and leadership to one rooted in punishment and domination.

Nowhere is this more clear than in America’s Middle East policy. Last week John Bolton, President Trump’s national security adviser, announced the closing of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s office in Washington; the administration also revoked the visas for the organization’s envoy and his family.

Mr. Bolton suggested that the Palestinians needed to be punished, for both their readiness to refer Israeli construction in occupied territory to the International Criminal Court and their reluctance to engage with the Trump administration’s peace efforts.

Both charges are spurious, and in any event trivial. It is true that Palestinian leaders have a habit of investing unrealistic expectations in an international community as a kind of deus ex machina. What is also true, however, is that they have hardly any other options.

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