Israel Should Implement Trump Plan Now
The question of whether Israel would be applying sovereignty or annexing territory in Judea, Samaria, and other areas is — from a practical and political standpoint — about as relevant as the debate over the pronunciation of tomato. Whatever Israel does, it will be condemned by nearly everyone but the Trump administration (as long as the move is undertaken with the other requirements of that plan). Nevertheless, by executing the Trump plan, Israel can preempt the two major critiques — that annexation will obstruct a two-state solution and turn Israel into an Afrikaner-like state.
Of course, it is up to the elected government, but why wait four years for the Palestinians to fulfill obligations they already rejected? Israel should immediately annex all the settlements as provided by the Trump plan and recognize the Palestinian Authority as a state in Gaza and 70% of the West Bank with a capital in Abu Dis. Jerusalem will remain the undivided capital of Israel, and Israeli forces will remain in control of security as detailed in the plan. There are lots of logistical issues to resolve, but that can be done gradually after the boundaries of the two states are delineated.
By recognizing a Palestinian state, Israel can escape the demographic dilemma and the specious comparisons to Afrikaner South Africa. Israel would absorb roughly 100,000 Palestinians — the number of refugees Israel was willing to accept after independence — not millions. Giving this relatively small number of people citizenship will allow Israel to remain a Jewish and democratic state.
Presto! The two-state solution has been achieved. End of debate.
Sure, that’s a pipe dream. The Palestinians and their allies will complain that there were no negotiations, that the state is not big enough, and that too many restrictions limit its independence. We know the Palestinians won’t be satisfied so long as Israel exists. Nevertheless, everyone else wanted the Palestinians to have a state, and now they will. There is virtually zero chance they would get a state any other way, because there are so many Jewish settlers that no Israeli government would ever agree to evacuate the number required to create the Palestine imagined by two-state fantasists.
Benjamin Netanyahu knew the risks when he agreed to the Trump plan, and he would not be the first prime minister to accept the idea of a Palestinian state. Nevertheless, just as Israel’s detractors will be unsatisfied, so too will the far right in Israel and abroad, which becomes apoplectic at the thought of a Palestinian state.
We’re all familiar with the concerns that such a state would be a terrorist outpost that could threaten Israel’s security. Despite Israel having the eighth most powerful army in the world, the IDF cannot defeat the Palestinians because Israelis are unwilling to pay the moral, human, and diplomatic costs required. Still, should Israelis be afraid of a Palestinian state?
As Netanyahu likes to say, Israelis live in the Middle East, not the Middle West, so they have to accept risks. Israel has demonstrated it can limit the threat posed by Palestinian terrorists. It has withstood two uprisings, almost daily terror attacks for decades, and more than 10,000 rockets launched from Gaza. Israel can survive a Palestinian state.
Yes, Nablus and Ramallah are not the same as Gaza. Palestine would be within rocket range of Israel’s capital, its airport, its industrial heartland, and most populous areas. But rockets can go in both directions. The Palestinians are just as close to Israel and the IDF can make life in Palestine miserable. Once they have their state, will the Palestinians be so foolish as to jeopardize it by attacking Israel?
Don’t answer that.
The Palestinians have proven themselves masters at sabotaging their own interests. Will they still be seen as sympathetic victims, however, once they have independence?
Jordan’s King Abdullah may grumble over Israel annexing the Jordan Valley, but he knows Israel was never going to give it up and that the recognition of a rump state of Palestine is in his best interest because it eliminates his fear that Israel might resurrect the once popular idea of making Jordan the Palestinian state (it already is, but that’s another story). Moreover, both Israel and Jordan share an interest in ensuring that Palestine remains demilitarized and too weak to threaten either country.
The Palestinians have held onto the belief that outsiders will force Israel to capitulate to their demands, but they have discovered that their Arab brethren have lost interest in sacrificing their interests to support the Palestinians’ irredentism. Similarly, the Europeans are all bluster. They should be even less interested in punishing Israel after the Palestinian state they have agitated for has been established.
Acting now will disabuse the Palestinians of their long-held belief that time is on their side. It also could preempt any effort by a Biden administration to turn back the clock to the disastrous policies of the Obama administration.
Annexation and recognition need not be the end of the story. There is nothing to stop the Palestinians from seeking negotiations to alter the borders and security arrangements in the future. Instead of Israel making one-sided concessions, it will be the Palestinians who will have to compromise to improve their position.
In the meantime, the Palestinians can avoid a repetition of the mistake they made after the Gaza disengagement and focus their energies on state-building. They can prove their concern for refugees by welcoming them (a number to be negotiated with Israel, which will control the border crossings) to Palestine.
This is not the utopian solution two-staters romanticize, but it is doable, and it will benefit both Israelis and Palestinians. Palestinians have threatened to declare independence if Israel annexes any territory, and some of their European allies have expressed a willingness to recognize a Palestinian state. Call their bluff and act first.
Mitchell Bard is a foreign policy analyst and authority on US-Israel relations who has written and edited 22 books.