Bibi never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity
While Israel remains engulfed in turmoil over the power of its Supreme Court to rein in its most right wing elected government ever, the Palestinians remain in the back seat of Israeli policymaking for going on well over a decade.
To be fair, Israel has in the past offered the Palestinians full statehood, but no Palestinian leader has been visionary enough to accept any plan.
In 2000, Palestinian President Yasser Arafat rejected a comprehensive peace deal.
Former leftwing Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak recalled in detail President Clinton’s frustration when Arafat rejected Israel’s offer to give up the West Bank and Gaza as a starting point for negotiation:
“The true story of Camp David was that for the first time in the history of the conflict the American President put on the table a proposal, based on UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338 [return of the West Bank and Gaza], very close to Palestinian demands, and Arafat refused even to accept it as a basis for negotiations, walked out of the room, and deliberately turned to terrorism.”
Clinton even banged on the table, visibly upset at Arafat’s rejection:
“You are leading your people and the region to catastrophe.”
So there is no mistake as to what Israel offered:
- The establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state on 100% of Gaza and 92% of the West Bank.
- Land from Israel proper to make up for the 8% of the West Bank excluded from the deal.
- Dismantling of most settlements in the West Bank, except 8%.
- Establishment of Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine in East Jerusalem.
- Palestinian sovereignty over parts of East Jerusalem.
- Custodianship over the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
- The right of Palestinians outside of the area to return to the new Palestinian State.
- An aid program to help resettle the return of Palestinians.
Arafat died in 2004 and Mahmoud Abbas was elected Palestinian president a year later. He is now in year 18 of his four-year term.
In 2008, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert again offered the Palestinians statehood, an almost full withdrawal from the West Bank, and a relinquishment of control over parts of East Jerusalem.
Abbas, like his mentor Arafat, rejected the deal, oddly claiming the reason was because he had not had a chance to study the maps. Huh?
Olmert told Abbas at the time: “Remember my words: it will be 50 years before there will be another Israeli prime minister that will offer you what I am offering you now.”
Arabs around the Middle East know these sad facts.
When I’ve traveled to Saudi Arabia, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Morocco and Egypt, Arabs everywhere, while not necessarily in love with Israeli policy, are exhausted by Palestinians rejecting peace deals at the expense of the rest of the Arab world.
As one son of a high-ranking Saudi governmental official told me, “Why should we miss out on technology and advances with Israel when the Palestinians keep rejecting peace deals?”
Despite recent public Iranian rapprochement with Saudi Arabia, the Sunni Arab world remains very much at odds with the extremist rulers in Iran. Saudi continues to monitor a fragile quiet after fighting a long war in Yemen against Iranian-backed terrorists. Many Sunni Arabs, including the Saudis, remain at odds with Iran over its backing and financing of Hezbollah in Lebanon and other terrorists. Jordan and Iran remain mostly hostile toward one another going on 40 years.
Given Iran’s stated goal of destroying Israel, that puts much of the Sunni world and Israel in alignment over a common destructive enemy.
Although ISIS is an extremist Sunni group, Egypt and other countries have several times called on Israel to assist against that threat.
Besides common military interests, Saudi, UAE, Bahrain, Oman, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and several other countries also have concluded that they’d rather reap the benefits of an economic, agricultural and technological relationship with Israel than lose out more.
In particular, Saudi and its beloved prince have chosen a new path of modernity, economics and engagement with the world over terrorism and extremism.
That doesn’t fit into Iran’s or other terrorists’ plans.
The proof is in the pudding.
Since UAE and Bahrain signed normalization agreements with Israel three years ago, trade between the countries is in the billions. And in Morocco, where normalization is just a couple years old, the benefit has still been in the tens of millions and is headed toward a half a billion over the next couple years.
Then what’s holding up Saudi Arabia and others from joining the 2020 Abraham Accords, which opened Israel’s relations with UAE and Bahrain?
No Israeli progress whatsoever on peace with the Palestinians.
Note: not no final peace deal with Palestinians, as MBS made clear in his recent Fox News interview. It’s about no Israeli effort whatsoever.
In the over ten years of Netanyahu’s latest stint as prime minister, he has utterly failed to read these tea leaves, and he continues to miss out on wider peace in the Middle East.
Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu became prime minister in 2009 and has served ever since except one year in 2022.
During Netanyahu’s tenure, instead of continuing talks with Palestinians, and instead of doing literally anything to improve their lives, he chose a different path and decided to rapidly increase Israeli settlements in the West Bank — where a Palestinian State would have to be created.
In 2008, the number of Israelis living in the West Bank was 290,000, compared to 2.5 million Palestinian Arabs.
In 2023, the number of Israelis living in the West Bank is approaching 500,000, a la Bibi.
As of January 2023, there were 132 Israeli communities in the West Bank. And that doesn’t include another 100 communities where Israelis grabbed land without official government approval to create new towns.
Bibi and Palestinian President Abbas haven’t talked more than a few minutes in ten years.
None of us can force Abbas to accept any peace deal, but the only thing holding up Israel’s acceptance into most of the Sunni Arab world and indeed parts of the Shia world is Israel’s refusal to make its best efforts at peace with Palestinians. To improve their treatment of Palestinians not living in Israel proper. And to continue creating and offering every imaginable plan for Palestinian statehood.
Israel brags about its contributions to the world. Its innovation. Its disaster and medical relief teams deployed everywhere from Haiti to Kenya to Guatemala. Its ability to solve some of the most complicated problems.
Israeli solved its water crisis. It’s figured out how to recycle 95% of its wastewater for agricultural use. It turns ocean water into drinking water. It created cutting-edge, efficient irrigation technology in areas where water is scarce, from its own country to Africa to Colorado.
Israelis invented the cell phone. They’ve been instrumental in the creation of many of our computer chips. They created the Waze app for navigation. Self-driving car technology. The list goes on.
Let’s be honest. If the so-called advanced Israelis wanted to get creative and solve the Palestinian issue, they could come up with some more ideas that would not threaten their existence or security.
Palestinian and Israeli leadership owe their power and relevance in part to the continued conflict. But Israelis and Palestinians deserve better.
It’s time for Israel to give its best efforts once again at creating a better life for Palestinians.
Then Israel will know a wider peace.
Jeffrey Kass is an American lawyer and an award-winning and top 50 writer on history, racism, education and diversity.