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April 30, 2020 7:28 am

Trump’s Peace Plan Will Help Israel — No Matter What the Palestinians Do

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avatar by Jeremiah Rozman


White House senior adviser Jared Kushner speaks at the ‘Peace to Prosperity’ conference in Manama, Bahrain, June 25, 2019. Photo: Peace to Prosperity Workshop / Handout via Reuters.

Now that Israel finally appears to be on the brink of forming a government, and with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signaling confidence that settlement annexation will begin “within months,” it is worth taking a hard look at the framework dubbed “the Deal of the Century,” under which annexation will likely proceed.

Henry Kissinger called President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan “a responsible first stage and broader approach to the world’s most intractable geopolitical issue.” The proposal provides the most practicable US solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in its history. It offers a detailed territorial plan open to compromise, a robust internationally-backed economic plan, highly specific workarounds for access to ports, industrial zones, and travel, and addresses security and refugees. The plan provides remarkable opportunities to all parties if it succeeds, but its true strength is that it is designed to improve the status quo even if the Palestinians reject it, which they have and will continue to do.

The Trump team crafted the most realistic path to peace and Palestinian sovereignty to date, and it is still doomed because of two stipulations that are foundational to achieving peace. First, the Palestinians must accept a final status deal that rejects further territorial claims — they will not. Second, the Palestinian Authority (PA) must bring the Gaza Strip under its control — it cannot.

Unlike prior proposals based on the pre-1967 “borders,” this plan takes as its starting point the current demographics and geo-strategic realities. In this respect, it is more similar to the UNSCOP 1947 partition plan than any of the Oslo-era proposals.

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The pre-1967 “borders” were simply the armistice lines of Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. Using boundaries from the 1940s as a basis for creating a new state in 2020 is nonsensical, yet the wisdom of these borders as a foundation for talks has gone unquestioned by the international community, and by the US as the primary external proponent of peace talks until now.

By working with the facts on the ground today, not the greater part of a century ago, the Trump administration — in consultation with Israel and regional and international partners — was able to draft a partition plan that does not necessitate population transfers and the misery that accompanies them. Regrettably, the Palestinian leadership rejected the invitation to contribute to the drafting process.

The plan also understands that Israel’s population will not support withdrawing from strategic territory. The lessons learned from the Second Intifada, the Gaza disengagement, and the withdrawal from southern Lebanon, is that violent extremists take over where the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) withdraw.

The Trump proposal could either be a win-win or a win-lose. Each side that accepts the deal wins. If the Palestinians accept the deal and comply with its terms within its specified four-year framework, they would see the historic creation of a Palestinian state and a major influx of economic support and investment. Regardless of what the Palestinians do, however, if Israel accepts the plan, it boosts its legitimacy as a country willing to make peace, as well as US support to apply sovereignty over strategically and culturally important territory that has been in political limbo since 1967.

The Palestinians have not yet met two basic prerequisites for statehood: 1) a nationalist agenda that puts pragmatism above ideology, and 2) a government that controls a monopoly on violence. Ideological absolutism and Hamas rule in Gaza pose insurmountable obstacles that will keep the Palestinians from accepting or implementing the peace deal.

In pre-statehood Israel, even the most ideologically staunch Zionist groups Etzel and Lehi put pragmatism first, begrudgingly accepting the rump state offered them in the 1947 partition plan. After a brief showdown — the “Altalena Affair” — Jewish militias voluntarily ceded control to the state. Zionists met the prerequisites for statehood by 1947. In 2020, Palestinians are as far as ever from meeting them.

The Palestinians’ first obstacle is an ideology that precludes them from renouncing further claims in the event of a peace deal. Even their “moderate” leadership, the PA, is unwilling to relinquish claims to a square centimeter of land. Hamas — which rules nearly two-million Palestinians in Gaza — views obliterating Israel as a sacred duty. This is a core tenet written into their charter.

The PA is not the secular nationalistic alternative to the religious extremist Hamas. Fatah submissions to official PA media rejected the Trump peace plan in terms of a Quranic prohibition to cede any of the land. Abbas’ ideological rigidity in 2020 is the same that led Arafat to reject the Clinton parameters in 2000 — a deal that offered Palestinians far better terms, including the division of Jerusalem. Indeed, it is the same mentality that led Haj Amin al-Husseini to reject partition in 1947, although at least then there was good reason for the Arab leadership to believe they could achieve their goals militarily.

The trend is clear. The longer the Palestinians wait, the less they will be offered. Despite this, the Palestinian leadership cannot steer itself away from the cliff that rejectionism is driving them towards. Palestinian leaders would rather go down in history as having failed to stop the strong and devious American-backed Zionists from plundering Palestine than as the leaders that willfully signed a portion of it away forever.

While both Arafat and his successor Abbas spoke of territorial compromise in abstraction, neither could commit when it came time to make it official. To do so is seen by PA leadership and substantial portions of the population as treason to the Palestinian cause. Hamas and other Islamist groups and supporters see it as a betrayal of Islam. Like Arafat before him, when it comes time to officially sign a permanent peace deal, Abbas will balk. Indeed, the language used by Arafat and Abbas is almost identical.

During the 2000 Camp David talks — arguably the closest that Israel and the Palestinians ever got to a two-state solution — when it came time to sign, Arafat demurred, asking President Clinton, “do you want to attend my funeral?” During the US-led peace process in 2014, regarding recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, Abbas stated, “I am 79-years-old and am not ready to end my life with treason.”

Abbas remains unyielding. Rejecting the Trump peace plan, Abbas exclaimed: “Trump is a dog and the son of a dog, I won’t become a traitor.” He further proclaimed: “I won’t record in my history that I sold Jerusalem.” To drive home the message, he stated, “It’s either dying like martyrs or flying the Palestinian flag on the walls of Jerusalem.”

If somehow the unimaginable happens — the PA opts to revisit the peace plan, end payments to terrorists, negotiate in good faith, and agree to territorial compromise — they will still need to create a government. Herein lies the second obstacle. Even if the PA makes a 180-degree turn from its history and accepts the deal, it has no way of getting Hamas to go along. This is unlikely to change in the four years that the deal allots.

According to the terms, the Hamas government in Gaza must either be removed from power and replaced by the PA, or it must renounce violence, disarm, accept Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, and become a legitimate Palestinian political party. Hamas has no intention of doing any of the above.

The PA has no way to bring Hamas under its jurisdiction. Expecting Hamas to cede control over its vast arsenal and well-organized forces to a group it fought a bloody civil war with in 2007 is fantasy. Furthermore, Hamas only controls a portion of the forces in Gaza. Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) boasts an arsenal equal to that of Hamas and controls entire neighborhoods and brigades. Both Hamas and PIJ are backed primarily by Iran. Agreeing to peace with Israel would end their autonomy, as well as lucrative Iranian support.

The Palestinians have already rejected the Trump peace plan. Abbas, in classic Middle Eastern exaggerated parlance, said “1,000 times, no!” Despite this outburst, the deal remains open for their deliberation. The Palestinians would be foolish to reject this deal. They were especially foolish to reject the invitation to be part of its crafting. But, as Abba Eban put it, “they never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”

Regardless of whether the Palestinians reject or accept the deal, Israel gets the green light to extend sovereignty to areas it considers critical; the major settlement blocs and the Jordan Valley. If the Palestinians hope that rejecting the deal will hurt Israel more than it hurts itself, it is deluded. The status quo clearly favors Israel in terms of demographics, security, and diplomacy.

Since Arafat rejected the Clinton parameters in 2000, Israel has seen two decades of steadily rising prosperity, relative military power, and diplomatic prospects. It is managing both the PA and Hamas with increasing success. Abbas’s oft-repeated threat to cut security ties is hollow. The PA relies on the IDF to keep Hamas from throwing its men off of roofs, as they did in Gaza in 2007.

In 2019, the IDF saw the lowest number of combat casualties in Israel’s history. Israelis are not desperate to reach an accord with the Palestinians, and will not accept proposals that threaten their security. Israelis simply do not see the slim prospects for peace with the Palestinians as worth much of a risk.

Demographics are no longer the boogeyman they once were. Average Jewish birth rates outpace Arab birth rates and Jewish birth rates in the territories are higher still.

Israel is also unlikely to face increased international pressure if the PA rejects this deal. Israel has seen improved international ties in the past decade despite the absence of a meaningful peace process. The Palestinian cause no longer commands the attention that it once did in the Arab world.

As regional players see opportunities to cooperate with Israel and grow impatient with the Palestinians, the PA cannot expect continued support from the Arab world. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman reportedly said that the Palestinians should accept peace negotiations or “shut up and stop complaining.” The Trump peace plan is backed by several Arab nations including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar. It is backed by European countries including Great Britain and France, several South American countries, and key US allies in Asia, such as Japan and South Korea. Russia appears to be on board as well. This is critical as Israel fights a shadow war against Iran in Syria where Russia controls much of the airspace. 

The wisdom of this deal is that it provides a regional vision for prosperity and Western support. As oil becomes less important, good relations with the West and Israel will be critical for Arab countries seeking to modernize their economies and fight threats from extremist groups and Iran. This is desirable enough that Palestinian rejection will not keep them from slowly improving ties with Israel.

The Palestinians now have four years to accept and negotiate on the principles of the deal. Whether or not they choose to do this, Israel can improve regional ties and put to rest the fantasy that it will cede sovereignty over the Jordan Valley, east Jerusalem, or the major settlement blocs. The world and the region is moving on with or without a Palestinian state. The Palestinians now must decide if they will take control of their destiny or continue to wallow in rejectionist misery.

Jeremiah Rozman has a PhD in International Relations from the University of Virginia with a focus on strategic/security studies and conflict resolution. His regional expertise is in the Middle East and Russia. He currently works as the National Security Analyst for a Washington DC-based think tank. From 2006-2009 he served as an infantryman in the IDF. You can find a list of his experience, research, and publications at his LinkedIn page: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jeremiah-rozman-8426207b/.

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