Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’ between Israelis and Palestinians may yet prove to be the Flop of the Century. But its architects have been amazingly successful in the field of maintaining secrecy: I can’t remember any other political construct that has been kept so secret for so long, in the face of such keen curiosity from journalists, pundits and political adversaries. Nobody knows what the plan is; no details have leaked, no positions have transpired. Unheard of!
No wonder, then, that everybody is jittery: Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs, left-wingers and right-wingers… Kept in the dark, they are reduced to… well… guessing.
One understands this; it’s human nature. Guessing is our way to try to gain some control in a world plagued by uncertainty. But assuming the worst when knowing the least is not mere guessing – it’s something else.
It may be distressing to see the Palestinian Authority rejecting the new peace plan before even seeing what it contains; but a surprise it ain’t: after all, that Authority is made up of people who make a nice living out of the status-quo; from their point of view, any change (whether led by Trump, Obama or Clinton) risks being a change for the worse.
Waaay more surprising is the deluge of negative reactions from the ranks of the self-proclaimed “progressive”, “pro-peace” camp. Granted, these people don’t like Trump (I’m being a bit British here: they hate his guts, actually). But hey: God (or the forces of Dialectical Materialism) moves in mysterious ways. After all, those same self-proclaimed “progressive”, “pro-peace” activists like the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty; which was signed not by doves, but by right-wingers Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat. So why not wait until a few details have been revealed about the Trump plan? It’s likely to happen in a matter of weeks, if not days.
I find it disturbing to see so many ‘pro-peace’ activists ranting against a peace plan – any peace plan. And in particular one that they (along with everybody else) know nothing about.
Writing in the Times of Israel, former Knesset Member Ksenia Svetlova attacks the ‘Deal of the Century’ for trying to solve political issues through economic benefits:
So what is left of Trump’s peace plan if we take out the whole matter of an independent Palestinian state? Only the ‘economic peace’ that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been talking about for so many years.
Following a well-known activist’s gambit (when your argument is thin or dishonest, bring up a ‘human story’ to stir up readers’ emotions), Ms. Svetlova goes on to describe the plight of… Palestinian ice-cream manufacturers. Apparently, Israel does not allow one such manufacturer in Gaza to export its products, claiming that “it [i.e. Israel] has not yet set up the required supervisory [i.e. security] mechanisms”. An excuse that Mr. Svetlova derides:
The State of Israel, which has pioneered advanced technological and human capabilities to detect whether the mother of an American Jewish tourist has friends in B’tselem, has no technological solutions to enable it to inspect goods from Gaza.”
In fairness, I tend to agree with her: I’m sure a technological solution can be developed, which would allow soldiers to detect explosive material, weaponry or parts thereof frozen inside a box of ice-cream. What is, however, less clear to me is: why would Israel use its taxpayers’ money to develop and implement such a solution in order to enable exports from a hostile territory – when the most likely outcome would be that the resulting profits (or parts thereof, at least) would end up financing Hamas’s rocket capabilities, tunnels, attempts to break into Israel and other such goals?
But it’s not just Gaza – there are apparently also ice-cream manufacturers in the West Bank. And, while Israel in principle allows the West Bank to export its products, Ms. Svetlova tells us that in practice
The owners of the Al-Araz ice cream plant in Nablus would also be happy to reap the economic benefits of peace. But ice cream is a delicate and fragile product, and long waits at the checkpoints do it no good.
Upon reaching that passage, I’m sure that some of Ms. Svetlova’s readers will be wiping a tear: despite their occupation-induced misery, the poor-but-brave Palestinians manage to produce a bit of ice-cream – enough to export even! But those nasty Israelis make them wait at the checkpoints, causing the ice-cream to melt, along with the readers’ tender hearts.
Except that, in the very next sentence, we learn that the same Palestinian ice-cream manufacturer
whose ice cream is every bit as good as its Israeli counterparts, markets to the West Bank and to Jordan, and a bit to Dubai.
Now, that’s surprising. Because, to sell in the West Bank and Jordan, the Palestinian ice-cream has to cross checkpoints manned by the same nasty Israelis. As for shipping to Dubai (about 1,500 miles away from Nablus), surely that takes longer than crossing even the most vicious Israeli checkpoint?
When the tears are wiped off and the brain gears engaged, one finds more than a hint of dishonesty in Ms. Svetlova’s story: ice-cream is indeed a “delicate and fragile product”; which is why it is always moved around (even in frigid Scandinavia, let alone in the torrid Middle East!) in frigorific road trucks, railway cars and shipping containers – designed to keep that product from melting, whether en-route to Dubai, Jordan, Israel or South Patagonia. So, whatever it is that’s preventing Al-Araz from exporting ice-cream to Israel, it is not “long waits at the checkpoints”.
But a closer look at the primary thrust of Ms. Svetlova’s article reveals that it, too, is fatally tainted by dishonesty. After all, she describes the – yet unpublished and unknown – “Trump’s peace plan” as merely an attempt to bribe the Palestinians:
“It’s supposedly a simple idea. We’ll give the Palestinians financial incentives so that they can develop their economy, create factories and jobs, and in exchange they will cease their military and political struggle and stop dreaming of freedom and sovereignty. In exchange, the economic flourishing will bring stability and quiet to the entire region.
Having ‘established’ that, she goes on to teach us how “real life” works:
“The problem is that in real life, the economic, the military, and the political cannot be separated from one another.”
That’s a cogent argument – if one ignores the fact that it’s based on a lie. In fact, the new peace plan’s architects have been very clear that, while the plan included economic incentives, those are designed to come alongside – not instead of – political solutions. In fact, Jason Greenblatt – one of the plan’s main architects and, in consequence, one of the very few people who really know what it contains – made that clear repeatedly; including on 20 May, two days before Ms. Svetlova penned her diatribe.
One can argue against the ‘Trump plan’ (if one is inclined to argue against anything ‘Trump’) without resorting to dishonesty. It would be more than legitimate to doubt, for instance, whether either economic incentives or political solutions can be delivered in practice, given that both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas have already rejected them out of hand. One can argue that, in the face of that rejection, the ‘Trump plan’ is doomed to fail.
But then, decades of two-state-solution negotiations – including those led by Ms. Svetlova’s own party – have also failed. It is difficult to see why the same approach that failed umpteen times in the past would succeed this (umpteen + 1) time. And it is difficult to understand what’s to be gained by rejecting a new approach out of hand – before even learning what that approach actually is.
Among the cohort of critics of the yet-unpublished peace plan is the British-Jewish organisation Yachad, which describes itself as “pro-Israel, pro-peace”. The group is so keen to attack that peace plan, that it even promoted an article from Al-Monitor, a ‘news’ website accused of being a mouthpiece for the Assad regime.
Yachad added their own view:
Once I got over my awe at the stentorian tone, I asked myself: how do Yachad activists know what the “Palestinian aspiration“ is? Beyond the rather neo-colonialist tendency of attributing to other cultures our own ‘way of doing things’? Of course, the Palestinian Authority/PLO/Fatah screams that aspiration to the entire world. But what does that count for? The last (and only) time Palestinians in West Bank, Gaza and E. Jerusalem had something remotely resembling free elections, a plurality voted for Hamas – whose declared goal is certainly not a sovereign state living in peace alongside Israel.
Yachad activists have visited the West Bank and met Palestinians – typically those that are themselves activists on behalf of the same Palestinian Authority/PLO/Fatah. I have no doubt that, when queried by some starry-eyed Yachad activist, those Palestinians delivered the ‘correct message’. But, again, what does that count for?
As I wrote elsewhere, the Palestinians are certainly entitled to their aspirations. But what these aspirations actually are, it’s hard to know. If anything, the more trustworthy opinion polls show them as ambivalent at best on the issue of ‘two-states’.
In fact, I would suggest that, leaving aside the corrupt political class, the Palestinian Arab masses are yet to make up their collective mind as to how their future should look like. And why would it be any different? The same can be said about Arab masses at large. The fact is that Palestinians (like other Arabs) live under dictatorial regimes, with no freedom of speech and political debate. It does not help that they also live in an ultra-conservative society rife with taboos, in which dissent is frowned upon and worse.
Unlike certain ‘peace activists’, I do not think Palestinians are stupid. Why would they ‘aspire’ to a “sovereign state”, if that just means exchanging Israeli occupation for the local brand of corruption-cum-tyranny? For decades, foreigners and their local allies have tried to tell Palestinian Arabs what they should ‘aspire’ to: pan-Arabism, Islamism, or perhaps Western-style nationalism… The one voice we have not heard is that of the Palestinians themselves. But that does not seem to bother self-proclaimed ‘progressives’ who feel that they know what’s good for ‘the natives’.
Doesn’t it make sense, that, in order to formulate their collective “aspiration”, Palestinian Arab masses (and Arab masses in general) need to have the tools of free expression and the economic wherewithal that would allow them to think beyond tomorrow’s meal?
For decades now, ‘peace activists’ have been yelling at me: “Give peace a chance”. Well, I listened. And I did: I supported the two-state solution; the Oslo Accords; the withdrawal from Lebanon; the ‘disengagement’ from Gaza. I rooted for Barak’s proposal, for Clinton’s parameters, for Olmert’s offer.
“You failed”, I tell the ‘peace activists’. “But no matter, I will still give peace a chance.”
“Not this one”, they respond. “This one’s different. It’s wrong.”
“How the hell do you know?” I blurt, befuddled. “And what’s ‘wrong’ with ‘different’, anyway?”
“Don’t you understand?” they yell, exasperation growing into shrill hysteria. “This is coming from TRUMP!!!”