Paul Gross
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About the Trump Plan, I feel… ambivalence

With all the many shortcomings of this deal, it's hard to forget the Palestinians' rejection of far better past offers

For as long as I’ve been interested in, and more-or-less informed about, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict I’ve supported a two-state solution. I was approaching my 22nd birthday when President Clinton hosted Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat at Camp David, hoping to produce the sequel to the first Camp David movie — Israel’s successful peace talks with Egypt in 1978. I was hopeful. It was a somewhat blind optimism based on not a great deal of knowledge. Arafat’s rejection of the then-unprecedented two-state offer by Barak would turn out to be a useful if depressing guide to Palestinian ‘peacemaking’ efforts in subsequent years.

Fast-forward to 2020 and President Trump’s announcement this week.

Now, it would be something of an understatement to say I am not a fan of the current occupant of the White House. I do not go along with the view that he is “the greatest friend Israel has ever had in the White House”, neither do I believe a ‘peace plan’ which gives the Israeli Right everything they want is necessarily in the best interests for Israel. On the contrary, I view this particular iteration of the Right, led by a prime minister who is clearly willing to break every moral, ethical and democratic norm in order to stay in power, as extremely unreliable guardians of the welfare of the country. Netanyahu was typically disingenuous in his pleas for the Palestinians to come to the negotiation table. He knows they won’t and that suits him just fine. He certainly doesn’t want to have to fight his right-flank before an election, the hardliners who would object to a Palestinian state of any kind, even the hodge-podge of tunnel-connected islands the ‘Deal of the Century’ provides.

There is also a quite appalling element of the plan, tucked away on p.13 of the document, stating that the so-called ‘Triangle’ — the collection of Israeli Arab towns in the north of the country, adjacent to the Green Line — could become part of the new Palestinian state, albeit “subject to agreement of the parties”. That is to say, the borders of Israel would be redrawn in order to effectively remove Israeli citizens from the state. When this proposal was a prominent part of Avigdor Liberman’s election platform several years ago, it was rightly denounced in Israel and abroad as a profoundly undemocratic and racist policy. That the United States can now propose it is simply further evidence that we are dealing with the unprecedented situation of a US President (the ‘Leader of the Free World’) who has no interest in democracy – either at home or abroad.

And yet… and yet… I cannot join in the indignation and anger that’s bursting out of liberal and left-wing websites and social media accounts about this plan. The simple truth is I’m all out of sympathy for the Palestinian leadership. Arafat returned from the wreckage of the Camp David talks in 2000 to help ignite and then fan the flames of an Intifada which would see 1,400 Israelis murdered. He also had time to turn down yet another opportunity for a Palestinian state; Clinton’s parting offer of 94-97 percent of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and a capital in East Jerusalem. The Saudi Ambassador to Washington famously told Arafat he was committing “a crime against the Palestinian people” by rejecting the proposal.

Mahmoud Abbas has proved less willing than his predecessor to resort to violence (though certainly not averse to inciting it), but no more likely to accept serious offers of the two-state solution he claims to so desperately want. In 2008, he walked away from Ehud Olmert’s unprecedented offer of a Palestinian State on Gaza and 93 percent of the West Bank, with land swaps making up the remaining seven percent, a capital in East Jerusalem and even shared sovereignty of the holy sites in the Old City. I am not slow to criticize Benjamin Netanyahu (see above for evidence) but it was Abbas, not Bibi, who twice walked away from American-brokered negotiations, even after Israel’s prime minister froze settlement building (in the first instance) and released Palestinian terrorists (in the second). And this was with Barack Obama in the White House, the most overtly sympathetic US President to the Palestinian cause since the peace process began.

Well, now there’s no Obama and there’s no Olmert, or Barak, or Shimon Peres. There’s Trump and there’s Bibi. And it’s hard not to feel like Abbas & Co. have got the interlocutors they deserve.

About the Author
Before moving to Israel from the UK, Paul worked at the Embassy of Israel to the UK in the Public Affairs department, and as the Ambassador's speechwriter. He has a Masters degree in Middle East Politics from the University of London. He is currently a Senior Fellow at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem - though he writes this blog in a personal capacity. He has lectured to a variety of groups on Israeli history and politics and his articles have been published in a variety of media outlets in Israel, the UK, the US and Canada.
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