The Palestinian response to the Trump peace plan

"We say 1,000 times: no, no and no": Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks after a meeting of the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, January 22, 2020. (Majdi Mohammed/AP)

Update from AIJAC

02/20 #01

It was a surprise to no one that the Palestinians have vehemently rejected the Trump Administration’s “deal of the century” peace plan – they have been making it clear they would do so virtually from the beginning of the process of producing it.  This Update looks at the reasons for and implications of that rejection.

We lead with noted Israeli writer and intellectual Yossi Klein Halevi, author of the book Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor.  He says the Trump plan has exposed myths on both sides – the Israeli myth that the status quo can continue indefinitely, and the Palestinian myth that they can keep rejecting proposal after proposal and never pay a price for it. Halevi notes that successive Palestinian rejections have reduced the map of a Palestinian state, and argues that the only way forward today is for the Palestinians to offer their own detailed and credible vision for peace, something they have never done. For his insightful argument, CLICK HERE.

Next up is American columnist and former New York Times reporter Clifford May, who places the rejection in the context of conflicting Palestinian dreams. Some Palestinians, he argues, have sought to establish the first Palestinian state in history, while others dream of eliminating Israel, and it is the second dream that has prevented the achievement of the first. May then provides some history to flesh out how this has happened. For his piece in full, CLICK HERE.

Finally, we offer some interesting analysis of the reaction to a particularly controversial aspect of the Trump plan – a proposal that, if everyone agrees, an area of Arab-populated villages and towns, inside pre-1967 Israel but along the West Bank border, could become part of a future Palestinian state. Palestinian affairs reporter Khaled Abu Toameh, himself Arab Israeli, reports the vehement and near-universal rejection of this idea amongst inhabitants of the area in question. He then explores numerous examples of the lack of basic freedom and human rights violations in Palestinian-ruled areas that has led to the determination amongst Israeli Arabs to avoid being part of a future Palestinian state. For his eye-opening report, CLICK HERE.

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After yet another no, isn’t it time for a Palestinian peace plan?

Trump’s deal may not bring peace, but it is forcing both Israelis and Palestinians to confront long-held beliefs in a much-needed reality check

Yossi Klein Halevi 

Times of Israel, Feb. 5, 2020

President Donald Trump pauses as he announces a deal for Israeli-Palestinian peace with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the East Room of the White House, January 28, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The Trump plan for Palestinian-Israeli peace will almost certainly go the way of all the other failed blueprints intended to resolve our hundred-year conflict. With leaders across the Arab world backing Palestinian opposition, the plan will likely remain an American-Israeli conversation about peace, a wedding without the bride.

And yet the release of the plan has already had one bracing consequence: it has exposed deeply held myths about peace among both Israelis and Palestinians.

The Israeli myth is that the current status quo can be indefinitely sustained, and that the international community, distracted by more immediate and overwhelming tragedies in the Middle East, is losing interest in the Palestinian issue.

But the Trump administration’s considerable investment of energy and prestige in devising its plan has reminded Israelis that the conflict cannot be wished away.

Israelis, like Palestinians, have largely despaired of a solution. As a result, Israeli political discourse has turned to issues of religion and state, political corruption, the cost of living. The Palestinian issue has hardly been raised in the seemingly interminable rounds of recent Israeli elections; even the left has largely ignored it.

But with the release of the Trump plan, Israelis are once again arguing over the viability of a Palestinian state and the fate of the settlements.

The Trump plan has re-opened one of the most significant but least noted divides in Israeli politics: the split between the pragmatic right, which under certain conditions accepts  territorial compromise, and the ideological right, which opposes any West Bank withdrawal. Even as Prime Minister Netanyahu enthusiastically embraced the Trump plan, settlement leaders deeply opposed it. Though the plan offers the Palestinians only 70 percent of the West Bank – considerably less than previous offers – it still conforms to the basic principles of those other plans: a Palestinian state with a capital in East Jerusalem, however symbolic.

Worst of all for the ideological right, the Trump plan would limit the ability of settlements to expand, turning them in effect into islands surrounded by Palestinian sovereignty and threatening the long-term viability of the most isolated settlements. That the most pro-Israel administration in memory is presenting a plan whose principles are anathema to the settlement movement is another reminder to Israelis of how deeply the two-state solution has become embedded in international expectation.

The Trump plan also challenges a key premise on the Palestinian side: that Palestinian leaders can continue to reject peace plans without paying a political price.

The trajectory of peace offers over the decades tells a stark story: with each Palestinian rejection, the map of a potential sovereign Palestine shrinks. Arguably no national movement has rejected offers for statehood more often than the Palestinians – from the 1937 Peel Commission, which offered the Palestinians 80 percent of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea including the West Bank, through the 1947 UN partition plan offering 45%, through President Bill Clinton’s December 2000 offer of 22%. Each of those plans was endorsed by the mainstream Zionist and Israeli leadership.  The Trump Plan has further reduced the map.

It is long past time for Palestinian leaders to do what they have never done in the history of this conflict: offer their own detailed peace plan. We know what Palestinian leaders oppose; but what exactly do they support? Beyond the repetition of the formula of “two states along the 1967 borders,” what is the Palestinian position on refugees, land swaps, settlement blocs, holy places?

Some defenders of the Palestinian leadership cite the Saudi Peace Plan of 2002, which the Palestinian Authority endorsed. But the Saudi plan – hastily conceived to deflect American criticism of the Saudis following the September 11 atrocities, and presented to Israel as a take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum – is vague on precisely those details, like refugee return, that require a clear Palestinian position.

The long history of Palestinian rejection of peace offers, sometimes followed by waves of terrorism, has left Israelis deeply skeptical of Palestinian intentions. Israelis across the political spectrum fear that a West Bank Palestinian state could fall to the radical Islamist Hamas, which would launch rockets and other terror attacks against Israeli cities, as it routinely does from Gaza. With Iranian forces in Syria and pro-Iranian terror groups entrenched on Israel’s northern and southern borders, a hostile Palestine would complete the country’s encirclement. Given the region’s instability, few Israelis are prepared to risk that option anytime soon.

To once again commit to a resolution of the conflict, Israelis need to hear an unambiguous Palestinian vision of peace. At the same time, Palestinians need to hear an Israeli reaffirmation of our past commitment to a viable Palestinian state. Legitimate Israeli security fears are no excuse for taking steps – like Netanyahu’s intention to unilaterally annex settlements – that undermine the long-term prospects for a two-state solution. The Trump plan reminds us that unrestrained settlement building is unacceptable even to our friends. In this painful moment when a solution seems more elusive than ever, both sides need to reexamine the illusions that shape our discourse over peace.

Yossi Klein Halevi is a senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute, where he is co-director, together Imam Abdullah Antepli of Duke University, of the Muslim Leadership Initiative (MLI), and a member of the Institute’s iEngage Project. His latest book, Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor, is a New York Times bestseller. His previous book, Like Dreamers, was named the 2013 National Jewish Book Council Book of the Year.


Two Palestinian dreams: Exterminate Israel and a real nation-state

The Trump peace plan is meant to foreclose one and facilitate the other

By Clifford D. May

Washington Times, Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Some Palestinians have long dreamed of creating, for the first time in history, their own nation-state. Others have long dreamed of exterminating Israel, the re-created nation-state of the Jewish people. The second dream has prevented realization of the first.

Last week, President Trump unveiled what is being called (e.g. by The New York Times) his “Mideast peace plan.” That’s imprecise. The wars being waged in the region — e.g. in Syria, Yemen and Sinai — will be unaffected by whatever transpires between Palestinians and Israelis.

The plan also is being called the “Deal of the Century.” But Jared Kushner, the plan’s lead author, says it should be viewed instead as the “Opportunity of the Century.” That recalls the observation of Israeli diplomat Abba Eban, half a century ago, that Palestinians “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”

Mr. Eban’s assumption: That Palestinians yearn for peace, prosperity and freedom but stumble before they reach the goal. Hamas, which took power in Gaza following Israel’s withdrawal from that territory in 2005, has a different priority. The Hamas Charter states plainly: “Israel will exist until Islam will obliterate it.”

It adds: “There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors.”

Mahmoud Abbas, chairman of the Palestinian Authority, the governing body on the West Bank, is more nationalist than Islamist, but he also rejected the plan: “We say 1,000 times: no, no and no.”

That, too, evokes history: In 1967, the Arab states surrounding Israel went to war. Egyptian President Gamel Abdel Nasser announced the aim: “Israel’s destruction.” Syria’s Hafiz al-Assad vowed “a battle of annihilation.” Iraq’s Abdul Rahman pledged “to wipe Israel off the map.”

Ahmed Shukairy of the then-3-year-old Palestine Liberation Organization, was asked what would happen to Israelis after the war. “I estimate that none of them will survive,” he replied.

Instead, in what became known as the Six-Day War, Israelis prevailed, taking Gaza from Egypt, and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, from Jordan.

They considered returning those territories in return for a peace treaty. But the Arab League promptly issued its “Three No’s”: “no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it.”

During the years Egypt occupied Gaza and Jordan occupied the West Bank — having conquered them in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war — neither considered establishing a Palestinian state.

After 1967, however, an idea arose: If Israelis were to give those lands to the Palestinians instead, could they receive peace in exchange?

Specific proposals for “two-state solutions” have been put on the table many times, including in 1948, 2000, 2001, 2008 and 2014. The most generous offers would have given Palestinians more than 90 percent of the West Bank, all of Gaza and a capital in Jerusalem.

Each time, the Palestinians — or more precisely those who make decisions for them — said no. Counteroffers were not forthcoming.

The Trump plan offers Palestinians a recognized nation-state with twice as much land as they currently occupy, a capital with a U.S. embassy in East Jerusalem, more than $50 billion in investments and other benefits. But, once again, an essential concession is demanded: Palestinian acceptance of the Jewish state.

For Hamas, as noted, that’s out of the question. Might Mr. Abbas — not now but in a few months — reconsider? He’s 84 and 16 years into a four-year elected term. I can’t imagine him ending his career shaking hands with an Israeli Jew on the White House lawn while Donald Trump, smiling ear to ear, looms over him.

That said, this plan is not without merit. Over recent years, the campaign to de-legitimize and demonize Israel, to hold it to a unique and discriminatory standard, has made progress.

Palestinian leaders were handed a great and unexpected victory in late 2016 when President Obama facilitated the passage of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334. It asserts that there is “no legal basis” for Israeli claims to the West Bank — for centuries known as Judea and Samaria — including even the 2,000-year-old Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, and the ancient Jewish holy sites of the Temple Mount.

If that were true, on what basis would Israelis have a right to anything — even a right to exist?

And if that’s the verdict not just of Israel’s enemies but even of the “international community,” including the United States, why should Palestinian leaders compromise? Why accept less than Israel’s surrender and a new Jewish exile — to be called, for public relations purposes, an “end to occupation?”

By putting forward a plan that licenses Israelis, should they face continued Palestinian rejectionism, to alter facts on the ground through annexations, President Trump has changed the dynamic — at least for now.

Perhaps the next Palestinian Authority leader will be pragmatic enough to recognize that in the contemporary Middle East, where Iran’s Shia imperialists pose an existential threat to their neighbors, it’s time to relinquish the dream of a Palestine that is Jew-free from the river to the sea.

That does not mean acquiescing to everything Mr. Trump and Mr. Kushner packed into their 180-page plan. It does mean resuming negotiations with Israelis, perhaps putting a counteroffer on the table and, for the first time ever, transitioning from “resisting” the Jewish state to building a Palestinian state — a real state, with functioning institutions, not a failed state kept afloat by the “donor community.”

To do that would give birth to something that for generations has existed only in our imaginations: A peace process.

Clifford D. May is founder and president of the Foundation for Defense of (FDD) and a columnist for the Washington Times.


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