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February 13, 2020 5:35 am

What’s the Endgame for the ‘Deal of the Century’?

avatar by Daniel Arbess


US President Donald Trump shakes hands with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a joint news conference to announce a new Middle East peace plan proposal in the East Room of the White House in Washington, US, January 28, 2020. Photo: REUTERS/Joshua Roberts.

What’s the real purpose of President Trump’s “Deal of the Century”? Is it intended to help move the stalled Oslo peace process toward “two-state solution” final status, or will it rather be one last opportunity for the Palestinians to ignore a peace proposal before Israel gets full White House support to apply its law from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean?

The answer is up to Palestinian leaders. They have four years to change their eternal rejectionism. After that, the next step may be the “True State Solution” (Jordan confederacy), but even that would probably leave the civil status of the Palestinians in Israel’s democracy as a constitutional problem for Israel to solve later.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has agreed to suspend building Jewish communities in the West Bank while the Palestinians get four years to prove they’ll peacefully coexist with the Jewish nation by disarming; discontinuing their indoctrination, incitement, and financing of terror; embracing the rule of law; and giving up the “right of return” of former residents who have lived abroad for generations by now. The geographic contours of a future Palestinian state would be very similar to ones privately rejected by the Palestinian Authority (PA) before Trump took office.

If the PA hasn’t been willing to start final status discussions for the past 25 years, it’s hard to imagine they’ll jump at the chance now that these perfectly reasonable pre-conditions have been added. In fact, they’ve refused to even speak with the Trump administration for the past two years, since it recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and announced it was moving the US embassy there.

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The PLO’s General Secretary and lead negotiator, Saeb Erekat, had been scheduled to vent his opposition to the plan at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York this week, but skipped it when he realized his own exposure under the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act (ATCA), a Congressional statute that allows US citizens to sue for damages after terror attacks, including PA-underwritten terror attacks.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu — the first Israeli prime minister to back settling Jewish communities as “facts on the ground” in Biblical West Bank territories recaptured by Israel in 1967 — says he supports a two-state outcome. But he’s also opposed Oslo from the first trade of the very spot where Abraham first entered the Holy Land and his great-grandson Joseph, once the Viceroy of Egypt, is buried.

The Trump plan appropriately turns the past formulation of “Land for Peace” (where Israel conceded land but received an intifada, not peace) into “Peace for Land” (“demonstrate peaceful intention, then we’ll talk statehood”). The generous four-year window for the Palestinians, and ongoing debate over how quickly Israel can move to apply its civil law in the Jordan Valley security corridor, are thoughtful mechanisms intended to preempt active opposition to the plan from important neighboring Arab states.

There’s still a big problem with the plan though: It sustains the legitimacy of the false idea that there is a “Palestinian people” (as opposed to Arabs in Israel) who are “occupied” by Israel and have a right of self-determination in the middle of the West Bank, which is called Judea and Samaria because it’s the Jewish homeland. This leaves Israel as confusingly seeking to both secure and settle its Biblical land while simultaneously negotiating to trade it away. It’s one or the other — isn’t it time to end the confusing quarter-century charade and start acting now with clarity and integrity in accordance with the reality on the ground?

If Israel’s homeland starts at the Jordan River, what is the status for the Palestinians there? They were always citizens of Jordan. That status should be restored to them — with a legitimate voice in affairs of the state, since Palestinians do represent the demographic majority there, even excluding their West Bank compatriots. This is the last thing Jordan’s Hashemite King Abdullah wants, which is why he’s been more aggressively negative about the plan than Israel’s other neighbors.

Jordan’s role will probably be a key to the outcome of Trump’s plan, and Trump faces an uphill climb convincing the Hashemite monarchy to make room for Palestinian representation in Jordan’s government. Down the road too there will need to be a path for Jordan’s West Bank Israeli residents to have a voice in government where they live. Israel’s ultimate challenge may be establishing a constitutional arrangement to extend civil participatory democratic rights to its non-Jewish inhabitants, while still preserving the nation’s uniquely defining character as the homeland of the Jewish people. That’s a puzzle that may be easier to solve as soon as the pieces are openly on the table.

Daniel Arbess is CEO of Xerion Investments, a co-founder of No Labels and frequent commentator in the Middle East. 

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