David H. Levitt

A Look at Acceptance and Rejection of the Trump Peace Proposal is Telling

Let me at least try to add a voice of reason to the fraught vortex of hyperbole arising from the January 28, 2020 release of President Trump’s proposal, “Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People.”

Let’s start with the basics: the proposal explicitly recognizes and recommends a two-state solution. That is something the progressive left, which has panned the proposal with virtual unanimity, claims to prefer. Something the U.N. and EU repeatedly state is their goal. And at the same time, it is something that is an anathema to the Israeli right that is Mr. Netanyahu’s base – yet both Mr. Netanyahu and his chief rival, Mr. Gantz, have accepted and even endorsed the proposal.

Take a breath and step back for a moment right there. If the proposal was released now as a supposed sop to support Mr. Netanyahu’s election prospects in Israel, why is Mr. Gantz supporting it too? And why is Mr. Netanyahu supporting it when his own most staunch supporters, exemplified by the Yesha Council umbrella group of settler leaders, have already announced their opposition? Isn’t he going against his own base?

Think about that: President Trump, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and Mr. Gantz all agree on a proposal that calls for a two-state solution, to be mutually negotiated by the parties (“Peace to Prosperity” is, after all, only a proposal, not an attempt at cramming down a solution – and nothing in its purports to allow unilateral annexation by Israel, despite what some press reports suggest) – while both the U.S. progressive left and the Israeli settler right oppose it. The fact is that main stream Israeli politicians, even where opposed to each other on everything else and even in the midst of an aggressive, hard fought, close third election campaign, agree publicly on a two-state solution.

And, as always, the Palestinians reject it, out of hand. President Abbas issued a new version of the famous three “no’s.” He said: “We say a thousand times: No, no and no to the ‘deal of the century.’” This adds to the Palestinian rejection of two-state solution proposals in 1947, 2000, 2008, and 2016 – among others. This rejection is, of course, consistent with the positions of the BDS movement, which claims to object to the “Occupation,” but whose real aim has been, since its founding, the complete elimination of Israel (on any borders) as a Jewish state and whose founder, Omar Barghouti has said: “Definitely, most definitely we oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine. No Palestinian, rational Palestinian, not a sell-out Palestinian, will ever accept a Jewish state in Palestine.”

Who else has opposed “Peace and Prosperity”? All of the Democratic Presidential candidates who made statements criticized it – even those who could not possibly have read it because they were rather occupied on January 28, 2020 with an impeachment trial. Bernie Sanders said that any plan “must end the Israeli occupation and enable Palestinian self-determination in an independent state of their own alongside a secure Israel.” But that is exactly what the plan proposes. Elizabeth Warren said: “I will oppose unilateral annexation in any form—and reverse any policy that supports it.” But anyone reading the proposal would know that it is not a mandate, but only a proposal that expressly calls for negotiations between the parties – that it is only a basis for talks.

Indeed, it is especially interesting that several Gulf States, such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates (the latter three actually had representatives at the announcement of the proposal) have made statements appreciative of the Administration’s efforts and urged the Palestinians to enter into direct negotiations with the proposal as a starting point. That is the first time in memory that Arab states have backed such a proposal – and it creates a fascinating dichotomy where Arab states are more favorable to a peace plan than some U.S. Democratic Presidential candidates.

In my view, the Palestinians also have rights, a history, a narrative, and a peoplehood that are entitled to recognition and respect. And “Peace to Prosperity” recognizes that history and those rights. It recommends that both sides compromise, something that Israel has repeatedly accepted but the Palestinians never have. Give up the “right of return” – no. Recognize Israel as a Jewish state – no. In fact, one cannot find an occasion when the Palestinians have ever made a compromise proposal of their own, rather than rejecting proposals offered by the United States or Israel.

The current proposal is yet another opportunity. As Secretary of State Pompeo said the other day – if the Palestinians do not like “Peace to Prosperity,” they should make a counter-proposal rather than the outright rejection that has been their pattern.

Are there flaws in “Peace to Prosperity”? Of course. The concept of “enclaves” seems mostly unworkable. The suggestion of Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley (as distinct from settlement corridors along the Green Line), even in view of Israel’s legal rights under international law and legitimate security concerns, is something new to most proposed maps of two-state solutions. But at least it is an attempt to do something different, to try to require compromise by both sides.

Decades of attempts by several U.S. Administrations (most notably the Obama Administration), the U.N., the EU, and others to reach a resolution by putting pressure solely on Israel have been uniformly unsuccessful. Palestinians have no reason to compromise if no such compromise is ever demanded. Peace is further away than ever – so far away that the general populations on both sides of the Green Line have largely given up hope.

Say what one will about “Peace to Prosperity,” it is at least a new approach, an effort to put pressure on the Palestinians as well as the Israelis to do something different. Under the proposal, Israel must reject efforts of its right wing to forge “Greater Israel,” but the Palestinians must, at last and forever, end the mantra of “free from the river to the sea.” Any deal that creates a Palestinian state, something I firmly support, must be a true end of the dispute, not just a temporary rest stop along the way towards a desired goal of destroying Israel.

I recognize that the views espoused here will not please everyone. Those who demonize Israel at every turn, who refuse to accept the truth under international law, who oppose anything that comes out under the name “Trump,” will reject them. Those who reject a two-state solution – whether BDS or Israeli settlers – will reject them too.

But we should at least appreciate that the proposal is a comprehensive starting point that people of good faith should recognize as pointing toward that elusive word in its title: “Peace.”

About the Author
David H. Levitt practices intellectual property and commercial litigation law in Chicago, and is a pro-Israel activist.
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