The United States, Israel and Palestine: An Assessment

Event Information


The Middle East Policy Council held its 98th Capitol Hill Conference on Friday, October 25th: “The United States, Israel and Palestine: An Assessment.” Convened during a time of political uncertainty in Israel, the panelists were unanimous in their pessimism concerning current prospects for a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians. They also noted the importance of acknowledging the success the Trump administration has had in implementing policies which undermine the peace process, and stressed the need to address the urgent humanitarian plight of the Palestinians.

Amb. Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley (former U.S. Ambassador to Malta; Vice Chair of the Board of Directors, Middle East Policy Council) moderated the event; Amb. Richard J. Schmierer (former U.S. Ambassador to Oman; President and Chairman of the Board of Directors, Middle East Policy Council) participated; and Dr. Thomas R. Mattair (Executive Director, Middle East Policy Council) was the discussant. The panelists were Dr. James Zogby (President, Arab American Institute); Ms. Lara Friedman (President, Foundation for Middle East Peace; Fellow, U.S./Middle East Project); Prof. Shibley Telhami (Anwar Sadat Professor, University of Maryland; Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution); and Amb. Jake Walles (Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Former U.S. Ambassador to Tunisia; Former U.S. Consul General in Jerusalem).

Dr. Zogby began by noting that while the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is no longer the most pressing issue in the Middle East – the Syrian civil war and humanitarian crisis in Yemen receive greater attention from the media and policymakers – the suffering of the Palestinians continues unabated. Even the U.S. political debate among the Democratic candidates for president fails to recognize the Palestinian reality. Most candidates ignore the human dimension of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and instead default to saying they support a two-state solution. But Dr. Zogby believes that it is distractive to talk about a two-state solution because it is not going to be realized under current circumstances. Reducing the issue to a binary debate between supporting a one-state or two-state solution obscures the urgent need to address the humanitarian suffering in the occupied territories.

Ms. Friedman urged taking a clear view of what has happened around the Israeli-Palestinian issue since President Trump took office. In her view, the Trump administration has been both coherent and effective in realizing exactly their intent to systematically dismantle the peace process. This has been achieved through a variety of actions: taking Jerusalem off the table; removing settlements from the debate; changing U.S. policy as it relates to refugees; supporting Congress in changing U.S. law as it relates to families of Palestinians killed or imprisoned by Israel; and, acting to politically delegitimize the PLO and PA, and to de-nationalize the Palestinians as a people. Moreover, the Trump Administration has declared unilaterally, in the context of its Golan Heights policy, an amendment to international law to permit a country to retain land acquired in a defensive war – paving the way for recognizing Israel’s right to retain the West Bank. She warned against believing that, if there is a change to a Democratic administration in the 2020 elections, the goal should be a return to the pre-Trump peace process status quo. There is no way to return to that status quo, she argued, and even if it were possible, it is that failed peace process that paved the way for where things are today. She suggested, instead, that regardless of whether one supports two states or one state, the way forward at this time must focus not on end-game aspirations but on working for international law and Palestinian rights.

Prof. Telhami shared an overview of American attitudes towards the Israeli-Palestinian issue. The data suggest that while historically Americans have favored a balanced U.S. policy toward both parties, recent opinions have split more on partisan lines. While majorities of both Republicans and Democrats still favor a balanced U.S. role towards the parties, Republicans who favor one side largely favor Israel while Democrats who favor one side are now more evenly split between the two sides. He explained the reasons for this shift as three-fold: the actions of a right-wing Israeli government engaging in the U.S. political system in opposition to former President Obama; the Trump administration’s wholehearted embrace of the agenda of Israeli’s right-wing government; and the Israeli-Palestinian issue having become part of a broader value system within the Democratic party about human rights. Looking forward, he is not sure that sufficient passion exists amongst U.S. Democrats to make this a core issue for the presidential candidates, although it could be something that resonates with primary voters.

Amb. Walles agreed that a two-state solution is not feasible at the moment but that it represents the only way to reach a resolution to the conflict where the aspirations of both sides are met. He sees the Israelis and Palestinians moving further apart, making it increasingly difficult to preserve the conditions for a future two-state solution. This is complicated by the leadership transitions underway: we could be seeing the end of the Netanyahu era in Israel, and also the beginning of a succession process to replace President Abbas. In his view, the Israelis will likely regret not having made a deal with President Abbas when his successor’s priorities and political orientation become known. Amb. Walles offered greater hope that a new U.S. president could undo some of the actions taken by the Trump administration, and recommended re-establishing the two-state solution as U.S. policy, developing a more balanced position regarding Jerusalem, and restoring bi-lateral relations with the Palestinians.

The full video from the event is available on the Middle East Policy Council website. A full transcript from the event will be posted in a few days at and published in the next issue of the journal Middle East Policy. For members of the media interested in contacting these speakers or members of the Middle East Policy Council’s leadership, please email

Event Speakers

Dr. James Zogby

President, Arab American Institute


Ms. Lara Friedman

President, Foundation for Middle East Peace

Fellow, U.S./Middle East Project


Dr. Shibley Telhami

Anwar Sadat Professor, University of Maryland

Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution


Amb. (ret.) Jake Walles

Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Former U.S. Ambassador to Tunisia

Former U.S. Consul General in Jerusalem 

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Scroll to Top