The Path to Peace: Step One, Vision; Step Two, Political Settlement
Nobody expected the Trump administration’s “Opportunity of the Century” economic plan to resolve the Palestinian impasse, but it does have the benefit of demonstrating real economic underwriting by Israel’s Arab neighbors. Fifty billion dollars of mostly government money would materially move the needle for Palestinian infrastructure and integration, even without the probably unfeasible (at least not now) transportation corridor between Gaza and Palestinian communities in Judea and Samaria. The plan also elegantly addresses so-called Palestinian refugees and their claims of return, by arranging for economic support for them where they now live.
Jared Kushner essentially begged the Palestinians to “imagine” how their lives might improve with this plan. But they’re not buying this gift given with no preconditions or strings attached — not the people (according to recent polls); and certainly not their leaders (Mahmoud Abbas and his cronies declined to even listen, and Saeb Erekat called it a “fraud”). That’s what two generations of “resistance” indoctrination has yielded. The Foundation for Defense of Democracy’s Clifford May wryly observed last week that the legacy that Abbas is seeking is for “his portrait hanging next to that of his predecessor, Yasir Arafat and not used as target practice for the mujahideen,” which Abbas probably assumes it would be were he to accept peace with Israel.
Be that as it may, practically speaking, Trump’s economic plan could not possibly be implemented without a Palestinian institution to define priorities and administer disbursements, and it’s clear that no such institution exists at the moment. The Trump administration itself acknowledges the plan is conditioned on a political outcome. But the Palestinian Authority has made itself part of the problem, arresting and even torturing intrepid Palestinians who even consider engaging with Israel around this or any other form of economic collaboration.
So let’s talk about a real political plan that might actually break through the wasteful nonsense of the past 25 years. That plan would start with Israel finally declaring an end to the miserably failed land-for-peace formulation — Oslo and all its institutional hardware, including the Palestinian Authority, which supposedly only exists — at this point laughably — to implement “final status” issues of the two-state solution that the PA leadership obviously doesn’t want and has made it their sole purpose to avoid. The history is too well known to repeat here: Peres, Rabin, Barak (Camp David), Sharon (Gaza), Olmert (everything), Netanyahu (Wye). What did Israel get? Obama’s Resolution 2334 and Kerry’s “apartheid occupier” moniker.
The time has come to end military rule in Judea and Samaria, stop negotiating to give away strategically and spiritually critical territories won in the defensive Six-Day War, and stop apologizing for developing Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria. It’s confusing everybody, including well-meaning Diaspora Jews. Israel was intended by the colonial British to reach from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean over a century ago; it was only the Jewish people’s deep desire for acceptance and peace that lured Israel into negotiating sacred land to begin with. Egypt and Jordan have accepted peace with Israel; the Emirates and Saudi Arabia now realize that it’s in their interests too.
But this should not happen before replacing the internal and border security collaboration between the Palestinians, Jordanians, and Israel, which is the only enduringly useful outcome of Oslo. That shouldn’t present a huge challenge, because, regardless of anything else, no one disputes that security continuity is in all parties’ interests.
What status should there be for “Palestinians” living West of the Jordan River in Judea and Samaria? They already enjoy the full range of human rights to which all “inhabitants” are entitled under Israel’s Declaration of Independence. They are and have been citizens of Jordan since 1950; their rights as such, which were revoked by the Hashemite Kingdom in 1988, should be restored, and, as part of that nation’s majority, they should be given some legitimate voice in Jordan’s government. Their lives would be much better off if they were willing to abide by Israeli law as permanent residents, similar to Canadians living in the United States.
However, no political vision would be complete without a path to citizenship for law abiding citizens in the nation where they live. That raises the enduring question of how Israel can balance its civil democracy with its enduring status as the national homeland of the Jewish people. That is a matter of constitutional crafting, a process similar to that undertaken by the United States in the 18th century and Canada in 1982. Israel has the legal system and minds to accomplish it. All that’s needed is the clarity of mind and conviction to get it done. And that’s what stands in the way of this great nation from fully realizing its vast potential as a “light unto” others.
Mr. Arbess is CEO of Xerion Investments and a political independent who is co-founder of No Labels.