There has never been a true, comprehensive, and lasting peace between the Arabs and Israel since the founding of the Jewish state in 1948.
But there are those who now believe that if anyone can make it happen, it will be Donald Trump. And on Tuesday, January 28, 2020, U.S. President Donald Trump and Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu stood together in Washington and presented the outline of what the President calls the “Deal of the Century”. This is his plan for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and a broader concept that brings in the neighboring countries. These are countries who, for the first time in nearly 72 years, have begun to open their doors to Israel and reach out diplomatically and commercially. It’s a huge step to mend fences that have been broken for generations.
I have never been a big believer in the potential for peace in the region, but I do believe that if any peace plan can succeed, this has a chance. And it’s the only one I’ve seen that actually might.
This plan just may work, and I’ll tell you why. But it also might not work, and I’ll tell you that, too.
The plan calls for a new paradigm for forging peace. Earlier plans all called for many concessions from Israel, and many allowances for the Palestinians. This is just the opposite. In 2000, there were the talks between PLO Chairman Yassir Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, it was said that Israel gave Arafat 95% of what he asked for. But he still walked away, and shortly after, he ordered the 2nd Intifada or Palestinian “uprising”, which lasted until 2005.
One-time Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Abba Eban once said about Arafat that “he never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity”. It was said as a humorous quip, but it was no laughing matter. Abbas is following I Arafat’s questionable footsteps.
Donald Trump’s plan, like many before it, calls for a 2-state solution – the State of Israel, and alongside it, the State of Palestine. But it has much more substance than any earlier plan.
Israel is a tiny country, The United States is about 473 times the size of Israel, and the idea of dividing it further seems ludicrous. And wildly unfair. But when you have two groups of people who want the same land but, for a variety of good and bad reasons, don’t want to share, there needs to be a solution.
For the last 72 years, the only solution has been war. Endless war. One after another.
When Donald Trump ran for President, he promised to try again. It was another one of his campaign promises that he did not forget.
How is the Deal of the Century different?
A two-state solution isn’t new and it isn’t ideal, but it is an attempt at compromise with the Palestinians.
I have always objected to the 2-state solution for what I think are some very good reasons. One of them is because Palestinian children are taught from the cradle to hate Jews, and this has been going on for generations – since 1948, and supported by the United Nations, who created a special agency just for the Palestinians.
It is difficult to expect that they can unlearn such unbridled hatred easily or quickly. It could take generations.
And there is another issue: a 2-state solution has always required a land-link between the Palestinian land on the West Bank and that in Gaza, a highway connecting the West Bank and Gaza. It’s what Barack Obama called the “contiguous state of Palestine”. Only a “contiguous state of Palestine” would make Israel a non-contiguous nation, divided through the middle by a highway controlled by the Palestinians. And that would be unacceptable to any state.
Trump’s plan is different. It calls for a tunnel, not a road. The tunnel would connect the Palestinian part of the West Bank and Gaza, but it would not divide the country of Israel. And it adds land for the Palestinians that is equal to the land they would lose to the Israeli towns and cities that already exist on the West Bank.
Gaza is a sliver of land that would certainly benefit from a direct connection to the West Bank. But the West Bank is actually two pieces of land, connected by Jerusalem, so how to connect them to Gaza?
The West Bank was acquired by Israel from Jordan during the Six Day War in 1967, when Israel was suddenly attacked by Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. Jordan attacked Israel from the East. But Israel responded fiercely and definitively, and drove the Jordanian forces back beyond the Jordan River and annexed all the land in between. That land is now called the West Bank or, by their Biblical names, Judea and Samaria.
Since 1967, the West Bank has developed in such a way that parts of the West Bank are inhabited by the Palestinians, and parts are home to Israelis, who built cities, and universities, and industries, and gardens in the desert.
If you haven’t ever been to visit Israel – or the territories of the Palestinians – you may not know that between these towns and cities, are just miles and miles and miles of desert – barren wastelands – uninhabited except by itinerant Bedouin and their flocks of long-eared goats.
I mention this because when many Americans think of the West Bank, they don’t realize that the vast spaces of desolate and barren sand offer opportunity, but instead think of Israeli tent cities infringing on thriving Palestinian lands. In fact, there is plenty of room, even in this tiny state, for a 2-state solution.
And what you might think of as Israeli ‘settlements’, if you imagine tent cities with only the rudiments of civilization, are real towns and real cities with schools, and stores, and museums, and houses, and apartment buildings, and gardens everywhere.
Sharing this tiny country is not out of the question. In fact, it’s a really good idea. But ‘sharing’ suggests friendship and common goals. These barely exist between the Palestinians and the Israelis. The Palestinians feel disenfranchised and the Israelis feel continually threatened. It’s a terrible situation.
Among the key components of the Trump plan, are:
- Trump’s plan calls for a Palestinian state within four years, with its capital in East Jerusalem. He has asked Israel to refrain from building in the West Bank during that time, in order to give the Palestinians time to plan their future in their new State of Palestine.
- The President promised that no Israelis or Palestinians will be uprooted from their homes, and it ensures that religious sites will remain accessible to all faiths. It also maintains the status quo on the Temple Mount, which is holy to both Islam and Judaism, but on which the Muslims have built the al Aksa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. This is how Israel has maintained the city since it was re-united after the Six Day War. All holy places have been open and accessible to their followers.
- The plan also ensures that Jerusalem, a city that is holy to Jews, Christians, and Muslims, will remain undivided. It calls for the ancient capital of Jerusalem to remain united under Israel’s sovereignty”. This is not okay with the Palestinians who claim all of Jerusalem as their own, deny Israel its heritage and history, and have basically rewritten ancient history to include their own ancestors at the expense of thousands of years of recorded Jewish history.
- In the area of security, the plan is clear. The Palestinian state will be demilitarized, Hamas will be disarmed, and Israel will retain security control on the entire area west of the Jordan River. This is not likely to be okay with the Palestinians, who have been practicing violent terrorism for generations and are not going to want to give up their guns.
But then there are also these consideration that the plan addresses that may be additional deal-breakers:
- Palestinians will finally have to recognize Israel as the Jewish state and learn to partner with it instead of plotting to destroy it.
- The plan makes clear that the Palestinian ‘refugee problem’ must be solved outside the state of Israel, not by swarming this tiny country of nine million people, with five million more ‘refugees’.
- The plan includes a sweeping economic plan that ensures $50 billion worth of investment in the new Palestinian state – in infrastructure, in business development, in education, and much more.
With all its possible roadblocks, the plan gives the Palestinians a pathway to a state of their own if they choose to take it.
Trump said, “I hope the Palestinians and their neighbors will embrace this. And forge a peace with Israel.”
Unexpected Support of Arab States
In a show of unusual commitment, Oman, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates sent ambassadors to show their support for the new peace plan. Their presence was important because it demonstrated the new willingness of some of the Arab states to support an Israeli/Palestinian rapprochement that is decades overdue.
In a fair look at history, it has been a long and rocky road to get to here. The Palestinians have consistently rejected compromise, although they signed onto the Oslo Accord, and PLO Chairman Yassir Arafat signed an agreement with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. The two men even shared a Nobel Peace Prize because of their apparent willingness to reach out to peace. But these efforts ultimately failed when the Palestinians consistently chose terrorism – over peace.
So why should this time be different?
One of the key parts, in my opinion, is the four-year window which gives the Palestinian leaders an opportunity to cool off and decompress, think this through, and allow their Arab partners to convince them that this is a good idea. The fact that Israel will refrain from building new towns in the West Bank will also help to relieve the animosity and maybe, even the anger, that drives the Palestinians to terrorism.
This four-year window is a brilliant piece of this offer that allows the Palestinians the opportunity to rethink their options.
So why is there a problem?
Well, in the first place, you can’t have an agreement with only one side at the table. The Israelis are there. And they have been at every peace talk since the first one. in the summer of 2000, Yasser Arafat’s rejection of the land-for-peace offer that was made by Ehud Barak at Camp David.
What are the problems that could keep this from happening?
Well, there are many people who would say that this offer is one sided – that Israel is favored over the Palestinians – with an undivided Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty, even though the Palestinian government would convene in East Jerusalem.
And then there is the fact that the leader of the West Bank Palestinians, Mahmoud Abbas, turned down this plan, months before he ever knew what was in it. And when the newest plan was finally announced, he turned it down – again.
Rewriting the History of the Jews
There is one more reason why this might not work, no matter how good a plan it is, and how much it offers to the Palestinian people that would make their lives better. This reason has nothing to do with the leaders wanting to better the lives of their people, because all indications are that they don’t really care about their people. It has to do with ideology.
Within the charter of Hamas and the guiding principles of the Palestinian Authority is an overriding mission to completely destroy the Jewish state of Israel, rid the land of its Jewish population, and create a Palestinian state, an Islamic state of Palestine with Jerusalem as its capital.
This ideology denies the Jewish claim to the land, denies the Jewish links to its history, denies the archaeological finds that prove it, and the Biblical references that can be found on the land today.
Mahmoud Abbas denies Jewish history on the land, has proclaimed that Jesus was a Palestinian (impossible!) and that the roots of the Palestinians go back thousands of years (historically incorrect). Abbas has rewritten history to fit his own narrative. He denies the Holocaust, the existence of First Temple that was destroyed by the Babylonians, and of the Second Temple that was destroyed by the Romans. In that way, he can justify the construction of the Dome of the Rock and the Mosque of Omar on the Temple Mount, where the Jewish Temples once stood.
In Gaza, Hamas has also rewritten history. And has made its own plans for what is now Israel quite clear. In its revised charter, rewritten in 2017, it says,
“Hamas refuses to hinder the resistance (i.e. terrorism) or its weapons, and confirms the right of our people to develop resistance tools and equipment.
“Palestine, with its historical known borders from Jordan’s river in the east to the Mediterranean Sea in the west, from Ras Al Nakora (Israel’s Rosh Ha Nikrah) in the north to Om Al Rashrash (the Israeli city of Eilat) in the south, this land is Palestinian and a united regional unit. Displacing Palestinians and creating a Zionist entity does not cancel the right of Palestinians to their entire land, and does not validate the Zionist entity to violate this land.”
“…..there is no alternative to the creation of the Palestinian state, with its sovereignty on the entire Palestinian land with Jerusalem as its capital.”
The Idea of ‘Peace’ in the Middle East
What has been missing from this equation? A single Palestinian leader who would talk seriously about peace, who would take a chance on behalf of his own beleaguered people, and work for better lives for them all. But the Palestinian leaders have a vested interest in not promoting peace, and in all the years that the world has been trying to forge a peace in the Middle East, the Palestinians have not made a single proposal.
A Real Opportunity for a New Generation?
The plan that Trump has offered to the Israelis and the Palestinians provides an opportunity for young, new Palestinian leaders to rise up and demand peace for their people. Are there young people like that? Who understand that following the path of terror and poverty are dead ends? Are there young Palestinians who are ready and willing to fight for the promise of a million new jobs, and $50 billion with which to build a strong, new economy and a better life? Where are the young men and women who can rise above the culture of hate, and fight against the pointless culture of suppression and stagnation, and build a new economy that brings opportunity instead of endless poverty and suffering?
As long as the Palestinian leaders allow their people to live in squalor while they themselves live in luxury, as long as their belief system demands the destruction of the Jewish state and the Jews who live there, as long as they teach their children to hate for no reason and promote terrorism against Israel, there is little hope for peace.
President Trump’s team has come up with a bold and brilliant plan that rewards Israel for its continued efforts to find a solution for peace, and gives the Palestinians one last chance to take a strong leap of faith for which they will be generously rewarded, not just the leaders, but all the Palestinians who live there. It’s worth a shot. Only Abbas’ refusal will make it difficult to achieve.