Israelis had been waiting with bated breath for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s initial meeting with President Donald Trump on February 15. All sorts of fantasies were dreamed up by “Land of Israel” (right wing) advocates, as if the new president were an ultra-Zionist. Left wing “peace” advocates, on the other hand, were worried that the “sacred” two-state solution would be thrown onto the garbage heap, inevitably leading to a non-democratic Israel ruling over the Palestinian Arabs, spreading from “the river to the sea” (Jordan River to the Mediterranean) .
All that speculation was wasted, because Trump, ever the pragmatic deal maker, said he doesn’t care whether a deal two-state, one-state, or whatever, because “peace is the goal.” I concur. Since the failure of the Oslo Accords in the last decade of the 20th century, it’s been clear that the dream of “two countries for two peoples” will not work in the relatively tiny area which the League of Nations designated in the early 1920s as the British Mandate for Palestine.
In the first place, there are already three entities populated by Palestinian Arabs: the Palestine Authority in the Jewish heartland of Judea and Samaria, which was originally to be part of the Jewish National Home; the Gaza Strip; and Jordan (nee Transjordan), which the British amputated from the Mandate before its inauguration to be a home for the Arabs of the region. Both the Fatah terrorist party and the Hamas terrorist organization are fighting over the first two territories, while the Jordanian king Abdullah (whose Hashemite clan was parachuted from Arabia into Palestine by the British to rule over “Transjordan”) is primarily supported by the minority Beduin tribes, not the majority Palestinian Arab clans in Jordan.
In the second place, Palestinian Arabs of whatever stripe are adamantly opposed to a Jewish State on “their” Arab land. This obstinate refusal ruled out an Arab State of Palestine in 1948, when Israel proclaimed its independence while agreeing to the partition of its land, as proposed by the United Nations.
Neophyte President Trump, self-proclaimed as the greatest deal maker ever, upset the apple cart this week by stating to Netanyahu and the world that whatever formula is agreed to by the Jews and Arabs which results in a peaceful compromise is OK by him. This is an excellent negotiating tactic, which should put the Palestinian and other Arabs on notice that the end result of any negotiations is more important to the world’s #1 leader than any particular template, especially one that has utterly failed since the Oslo Accords of 1993 – a generation ago.
Are there other possible plans that might work? Yishai Fleisher, spokesman for the Jewish community of Hebron, spelled several out in an excellent New York Times article of February 14: A Settler’s View of Israel’s Future.
Under the first option, “Jordan is Palestine,” Israel would assert Israeli law in Judea and Samaria while Arabs living there would have Israeli residency and enjoy Jordanian citizenship. The status of the Arabs in Judea and Samaria would be similar to expats with Green Cards in the US, with Israeli civil rights but no “federal” rights.
Under a second option, proposed by Netanyahu rival Naftali Bennett, Israel would annex the Oslo Accords’ Area C, where most of the 400,000 Jewish residents live. Israeli citizenship would be offered to the relatively few Arabs in Area C, who constitute about 20% of the population. (Ironically, 20% is the same percentage as that of Arabs living in Israel.) Arabs residing in Areas A and B, the main Palestinian population centers, would continue to rule themselves.
Under a third option, Dr. Mordechai Kedar of Bar-Ilan University proposes Palestinian autonomy for seven non-contiguous emirates in major Arab cities throughout Judea, Samaria and Gaza (which Kedar says is already an emirate). His premise is that the most stable Arab entity in the Middle East is the Gulf Emirates, which is based on a combination of separate, traditional groups or tribes. Because the Palestinian Arabs are comprised of distinct city-based clans, Kedar considers the emirates template to be a realistic alternative. Under his plan, Israel would annex the rest of Judea and Samaria and offer Israeli citizenship to the relatively small number of Arab villagers residing outside the new emirates.
Under a fourth option, Middle East pundit Caroline Glick proposes (in her 2014 book, “The Israeli Solution: A One State Plan for Peace in the Middle East”) that Jews are not in danger of losing a demographic majority in an Israel that annexes Judea and Samaria because of the rising Jewish birth rate and the falling Arab one, coupled with Jewish immigration and Arab emigration. Glick foresees a stable Jewish majority of more than 60 percent existing between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean (she excludes Gaza), which, according to Klick’s choice of statistics, is projected to grow to about 70 percent by 2059.
Glick concludes that Israel should assert Israeli law in Judea and Samaria and offer Israeli citizenship to its entire Arab population without fear of being outvoted. Similarly, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely, advocates for annexation and giving the Palestinians residency rights, including a pathway to citizenship for those who pledge allegiance to the Jewish State (similar to the US). Another variation mimics that of Puerto Rico, a US territory whose residents cannot vote in federal elections.
Finally, Fleisher mentions a fifth option, promoted by former MK Moshe Feiglin and Dr. Martin Sherman of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies. They propose a belated exchange of populations with Arab countries, which effectively expelled about 800,000 Jews around the time of Israeli independence. Unlike the Jews, Palestinian Arabs in Judea and Samaria would be offered generous compensation to emigrate voluntarily, mostly by redirecting international aid. Currently most of those donations go to the corrupt Palestinian Arab institutions, especially UNRWA, the UN agency that has supported Arab “refugees” in towns (called refugee camps)in Arab-controlled areas for three generations!. Additional funding, if needed, would be supplied by those countries, especially European ones, that are ever so happy to throw money at the Palestinian Arab leaders. Perhaps, rich Arab countries would also contribute.
There are other options, such as a confederation with Jordan, or a grand alliance including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Emirates, and maybe even Israel, which haven’t been explored because of the stubborn refusal to consider anything except the “sacred” two-state solution. President Trump, merely by stating that the Palestinian Arabs must be willing to compromise and that the goal is “peace,” rather than the two-state solution, has opened up the possibility of real negotiations, something that didn’t occur during the two terms of the previous administration.