The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not insoluble, despite the fact that it has yet to be resolved. Past American administrations have attempted to achieve this diplomatic holy grail, and while some have succeeded in achieving a lasting agreement/arrangement with Israel’s neighbors, no one – from Johnson to Obama – has succeeded in the ultimate ‘End of Conflict’ with each party feeling satisfied with their allotment.
Unfortunately, President Trump’s name will soon be the latest on the list of American presidents to fail. How can a plan that lacks the inclusion and buy-in from the Palestinians (to put it mildly) hope to succeed? We should not fault the Trump administration for attempting to broker a peace deal and achieve the seemingly unachievable, despite their lack of experience in the region and their unconventional diplomatic style. But we must question its timing and motivation.
Is President Trump trying to help Prime Minister Netanyahu’s political prospects, giving him a boost before his impending bribery trial by giving the green light on annexation? Is the president creating a diversion from his own impeachment trial, while scoring some points with his Evangelical base?
The Talmud reminds us of the concept of מתוך שלא לשמה, יבוא לשמה – essentially saying that if someone is doing something for the wrong reasons, they may come around to do it for the right reasons. No other world leader is attempting to make peace, not the Quartet, the EU, UN, and certainly not the Russians, and if nothing else then at least the US is trying and hasn’t given up.
So, what does this plan mean?
Could it be an opportunity, an opening, a potential for rapprochement?
Not if Israel annexes the Jordan Valley or other territories in Area C, it risks losing further support from the international community (apparently the current U.S. administration not included) and further risks its ability to maintain a Jewish and democratic state. Fewer and fewer residents of the region speak about a Two-State arrangement and see that as an Oslo-era relic of the past with the only foreseeable prognosis leading to one entity from the river to the Sea. Israelis were correct in coming to the realization early on that this is not sustainable and should avoid this at all costs.
Netanyahu has notoriously played the short game, and Israelis should ask themselves if it is wise to not think about what might happen in November, even if President Trump survives his current impeachment trial. The risk is high that the current behavior [not clear — Trump peace plan?] could bring in a hostile Democrat who would not look favorably upon annexation. Some say, that that is exactly what Netanyahu and Bennett are doing in taking a page out of the Settler playbook in creating facts on the ground and making sure to do so now, while they have the American green light.
Will Israel take this moment to try to and convince Abbas that he has the opportunity now to exploit the Trump administration to improve conditions for the Palestinians? Use this moment of general elections as a referendum on the future of the State, including in that the question of land and population swaps beyond the theoretical notions that ignore the feelings and sentiments of real live citizens.
Separation vs. annexation? Two States vs. One State? Continued rule over another people vs. a Jewish and democratic State?
As Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin wrote this week, “It is also a moment to take bold steps to improve relations with our neighbors.”
It can be an opportunity for the Palestinians if they would temporarily overlook their disdain for President Trump and resist the temptation for continued and perennial flat-out rejection, but rather see this is as a starting point – however flawed it may be. Can you see this is a chance to build your country, to help stem the rising and debilitating unemployment rates and provide jobs? Can you see the possibility of taking advantage of Trump’s ego and tell him that only he (not Obama, not Clinton, or even Bush) can help the Palestinian people, that only he can look past the traditional avenues of diplomacy and think outside the box in the areas of economic development and regional cooperation? Can you contemplate that your rejection of the Trump plan, despite the rage and the injustice, will only play to the hands of those urging for annexation and looking to prove that the Palestinians don’t want a state?
The plan does acknowledge the importance of Palestinian independence:
“The Vision creates a path for the Palestinian people to realize their legitimate aspirations for independence, self-governance, and national dignity.”
However, the actual details and elements to provide the groundwork for a viable and territorially contiguous Palestinian state, with its capital in [East] Jerusalem, seem to be glaringly missing in the details of the plan.
The Palestinians have rejected the Saudi plan, the Clinton parameters, Barak’s offer, and even Olmert’s offer of a decade ago in which he was willing to withdraw from almost the entire West Bank including land swaps. That offer, which was not even given the courtesy of a response, not to speak of a counteroffer, is almost unthinkable right now. In today’s reality, the Settler leaders are not planning for how to resist another disengagement and removal of settlements, but rather how much to bargain for their own expanded dominion.
The Palestinians would be wise to notice that their progress has considerably declined over the past three decades and not miss yet another opportunity (as Abba Eban famously quipped). Even the Arab states, which will likely not risk losing the support of this U.S. administration, would come to the table. They, unlike the Palestinians, would try to use it as a starting point and recognize that when dealing with the world’s greatest superpower, and all the more so with Trump, one does not say “no.” Rather, as Israel well knows, you say “yes, but…”
Unlike Moses, who in this week’s Parsha resulted to sticks rather than carrots to soften Pharaoh’s heart, if the Palestinians resort to violence and unleash attacks, as they have done in the past, we can rest assured that Israel will (justifiably) have little patience, which will result in a worsening of conditions and a further distancing themselves from independence or even sympathy. Let’s hope that even after a faulty and highly problematic proposal that hearts of stone will begin to soften in order to avoid having this deal be just for sentries as we continue to live by our swords.