Trump plan may bring Palestinian state closer

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with Israeli alternate PM Benny Gantz in Jerusalem

 

The Age – June 3, 2020

 

The new Israeli government’s apparent intention to apply sovereignty to parts of the West Bank has seen various observers bemoaning the end of a two-state resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Anas Iqtait and Tristan Dunning were sure of this when writing in The Age and the Herald, and called on the Australian government to speak out against it. They also implied that the Palestinians are being treated worse than other groups on the international stage.

In fact, the Trump peace plan, with provisions allowing Israeli moves in the West Bank, not only doesn’t prevent a Palestinian state, but may make one more likely. Meanwhile, the Palestinians receive vastly preferential treatment on the international stage, with Australia one of few countries principled enough to call this out. Without this favouritism, the Palestinians may well have had a state by now.

Since Israel took control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip following the Six-Day War in 1967, its attempts to return land for peace have been continually rebuffed, first by the Arab League, and then by the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Most recently Ehud Olmert, with months left as Israeli prime minister in 2008, offered PA leader Mahmoud Abbas a state in all of Gaza, land equivalent to the entire West Bank, a limited return for refugees, compensation for the rest, and a capital in east Jerusalem. Abbas, as he has subsequently declared, rejected the offer “out of hand”.

Despite various goodwill gestures from Benjamin Netanyahu-led governments, such as prisoner releases and settlement freezes, Abbas has refused to negotiate at all since 2014.

So why is the Palestinian leadership so intransigent? It’s because they don’t genuinely accept Israel’s right to exist in peace, and any two-state resolution would require the end of all further claims against Israel. The refugees and their descendants would need to settle in the new Palestinian state rather than inundating Israel, as they have been promised they will for generations.

Furthermore, they believe time is on their side, due to the preferential treatment mentioned above.

The real background is that Israel captured the West Bank in a defensive war when Jordan attacked it from there, and Jordan’s occupation of the area between 1949 and 1967 was recognised by only two other countries. Moreover, Israel has legal claims to the area after the 1920 San Remo Convention and League of Nation decisions designated it as part of a future “Jewish national home”. Israel thus has at least as much right to this territory – more accurately described as disputed than occupied – as any other country, yet has repeatedly offered it up in exchange for peace.

Nevertheless, each year the UN General Assembly passes around 20 resolutions condemning Israel, while countries that genuinely and unapologetically occupy territory they have no right to – such as Turkey in northern Cyprus or Russia in Ukraine – get a free pass. The UN has a massive bureaucracy dedicated to asserting Palestinian claims, while other national groups seeking self-determination, like Kurds and Tibetans, are ignored.

The UN Human Rights Council, since its 2006 establishment, has passed as many resolutions about Israel as every other country combined. UN Security Council resolution 2334, passed in late 2016, is so extreme and one-sided it actually declares illegal any Israeli presence in the Old City of Jerusalem – despite it containing Judaism’s holiest sites and having had a Jewish presence for thousands of years, except when Jordan ethnically cleansed it between 1949 and 1967.

The descendants of Palestinian refugees inherit their refugee status and claim a “right of return” to Israel for those descendants (which would end Israel as a Jewish state), while for all other refugee populations only those who actually left their homes are regarded as refugees.

The Trump plan, while still making clear that Palestinian statehood remains the goal, for the first time shows the PA there may be a price for its intransigence, and no longer allows it to unilaterally veto any move towards settlement of the conflict. At most, it allows Israel to assume sovereignty only over land where very few Palestinians live, and only if it also genuinely accepts a Palestinian state. It offers the Palestinians land from inside Israel and $US50 billion of economic aid in addition to all of Gaza and at least 70 per cent of the West Bank.

Meanwhile, it remains unclear whether Israel will actually apply legal sovereignty in the West Bank and, if so, to what extent. For example, it may just affect the land containing the major settlement blocs, which Israel is widely expected to receive under any peace deal.

While assertions that it would be illegal for Israel to assume sovereignty are at least debatable, given the territory is disputed rather than occupied, it’s true that such action may be diplomatically counter-productive, and would need to be carefully considered and conducted.

However, pandering to the Palestinians’ rejectionism has clearly brought a resolution no closer, so it is time for a different approach and for the immoral, counter-productive, discrimination against Israel to end.

The international community should pressure the PA to genuinely accept Israel’s right to exist, and to at least take the Trump plan seriously as a basis for negotiations. If the PA did so, any prospect of unilateral Israeli action in the West Bank would almost certainly disappear.

Jamie Hyams is a senior policy analyst at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council.