Roads and roadblocks to Peace and Prosperity

Peace to Prosperity: a conceptual map for allocating territory between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

As a resident of Shiloh, in Judea and Samaria, for the last 25 years, my first reaction to President Donald Trump‘s plan, PEACE TO PROSPERITY: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People, was one of excitement and wonder. After the Oslo Accords,  and the subsequent agreements and negotiations, it seemed, that for once, someone had not only done their homework but had also internalized the lessons of the last 30 years. The basis of Trump’s plan, while truly being the continuation of the Oslo Accords, took a different tack and stated the obvious. The Palestinian Authority must want Peace in order to proceed and to want Peace, it must reform itself.

Amongst the “revolutionary” observations of  ” Peace to Prosperity”  :

  1. This Vision aims to achieve mutual recognition of the State of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, and the State of Palestine as the nation-state of the Palestinian people, in each case with equal civil rights for all citizens within each state.
  2. It is essential that a Palestinian state created under a peace deal be a state that has the tools to succeed and that it is peaceful and secure, rather than a platform for instability and conflict.
  3. Withdrawing from territory captured in a defensive war is a historical rarity. It must be recognized that the State of Israel has already withdrawn from at least 88% of the territory it captured in 1967. This Vision provides for the transfer of sizeable territory by the State of Israel — territory to which Israel has asserted valid legal and historical claims, and which are part of the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people — which must be considered a significant concession.
  4. Peace should not demand the uprooting of people – Arab or Jew – from their homes. Such a construct, which is more likely to lead to civil unrest, runs counter to the idea of co-existence.

These concepts fly in the face of the previous negotiations by stating straight that Israel has legitimate claims to parts of Judea and Samaria and that the counter demands of the Palestinians to the “Right of Return”, a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem, glorification of those involved in the conflict with Israel (including stipends to families of terrorists), and steps by the Palestinian Authority to undermine Israel through “lawfare” or “international sanctions” can only delay, even prevent any accord between the sides.  Without radically changing itself, the PA is unable to be a partner in any peace plan.

Many of the Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria, or “settlers” ( a loaded and incorrect term),  are also excited by the new approach. At second glance, though, they see many things to object to. A Palestinian State, roads not included in the conceptual map of division of the land, religious and archaeological sites under Palestinian control and communities remaining as isolated enclaves with a future Palestinian State. In short, they do not believe in the PA and they do not believe in Trump’s Peace Plan. Years of Arab terror directed against unarmed civilians, on the roads, and in the various Jewish communities have left their mark and any mention of a Palestinian State evokes images of the brutal murder of the Fogel family in Itamar and hundreds of other terror attacks malignant and vicious in nature.

Surprisingly or not,  the plan, which refloats the idea of “annexing to the PA” areas of the State of Israel bordering the PA with Arab populations, or the Waadi Ara Area (but including various Arab cities from Kfar Kasem, Taiba and Tira too), also raised the ire of Israel’s Arab citizens included in the plan. They may claim that they are “second class citizens” or that the plan is another attempt to disenfranchise them of their rights, but behind those claims, there is a plain truth: they do not trust the Palestinian Authority and its leadership. They no need of a translator to report what is happening in the PA nor do they need the news from Israeli sources. They are well connected and know that the PA leadership is corrupt, does not respect human rights, and is poorly mismanaged. They do not believe in the Peace that Trump is offering and want no part of it.

Others also dismissed the plan as being “too far-reaching”, as “impossible” or “fantastic.” or as dangerous and threatening to Israel’s relations with Jordan, Egypt, the Gulf  States, and the European Union  ( and the entire World, almost).  They do not believe that the PA can ever redeem itself and embrace co-existence with Israel to forge Peace, or perhaps worse they do not see Israel as a legitimate actor either within Judea and Samaria or even within Israel’s 1949 armistice lines. They also do not believe in Peace. 

Perhaps leading the pack, in a revolt reminiscent of Korach, is the European Union which is threatening sanctions (that they most likely will not be able to implement) if Israel should “annex” parts of Judea and Samaria.  Like Korach, their argument has more to do with their need to show their importance and their commitment to the Third World countries they court for trade and profit than any concern for chimeric “international law” that they state or misstate in support of their arguments. If they too see that the negotiations between Israel and the PA have floundered and that the Palestinians have dug themselves into a pit of unextractable expectations, they, instead of Trump, who has offered a ladder, have volunteered to send more shovels.

But I too was worried when I saw the conceptual maps. For while it may be natural for both Jews and Arabs to not believe in Peace, each for their reasons, it isn’t encouraging to see that even Trump’s team have their doubts.

Let it be clear, that the goal of any plan should be Peace.  Real Peace. The peace I envision is one where no one, neither Jew nor Arab, fears for his safety while traveling on the roads. Not Palestinian police nor Israeli police will be seen as a threat and both the police forces will work together to keep the roads safe for everyone. Yet the Trump plan has Israeli controlled roads and Palestinian controlled roads. Do they also believe that Jews and Arabs can’t share the same roads?

And make no mistake. Transportation infrastructure, improving existing and building new, will be very expensive in Judea and Samaria. Widening Road 60 from the Negev to Nazareth, Road 35 from Hebron to Gaza, or building a multi-purpose rail line along (and under the length of Judea and Samaria/Palestine will run in the billions of dollars.  There is no logic in building separate road systems is neither a practical nor economic sense.

I believe that this example shows that the Trump team hasn’t sufficiently freed itself from past shibboleths in the Israel-Palestine peace process.

For example land.  Of course, the territory is important and for those who work or live on the land there is more than just sentimental value, but most of the land in Area C not being used by the Jewish farmers is basically worthless from an economic point of view. Logically, if the land was useful it was settled by Arabs and farmed, otherwise it lay fallow or was used for grazing on a seasonal basis. When Israelis came to Judea and Samaria, they had the use of only the fallow lands. With the substantial capital investment, they have done much to improve the value of the land. So by placing an emphasis on how much of the land will be Palestinian and how much Israeli controlled the Peace processes have made the conflict into a zero-sum game where one side gains only if the other loses.

In reality,  prosperity will come not through agriculture (and certainly not from olive orchards and goat grazing), but through high tech and full employment. Even the agriculture that presently exists in the PA will improve many times over without adding another acre of cultivated land just through improved productivity from capital investment.

The focus on land has caused other problems too. The old sham of territory exchanges from the Camp David talks stems from the desire to show that the Palestinian state has not “lost” in the land percentage game. Even the idea of transferring areas populated with Israeli Arabs to the PA stems from this idea.

(In an aside, the idea of transferring Arab populated areas in Waadi Ara to the PA has its own merits.  For the Arab Israelis, it is a chance to be citizens of a country that shares their language, religion, and culture as “equal” citizens. For the PA, there is nothing worth more than gaining an educated and highly skilled workforce as citizens, worth many times over the amount of land they are attached to. Yet the final decision must be that of the Israeli Arabs themselves. In any event, with Peace, no possible harm could come to the Israeli Arabs who would retain access to their jobs, their land, and the benefits they have accrued as Israeli citizens.)

As for annexation, I am generally in favor of it with some suggestions.

  1. Since the percentage- land-game is so useless, Israel should only “annex” or implement “sovereignty” where Israeli citizens now live and farm, including the hills east of Itamar or west of Tapuach. Sovereignty, something akin as outlined in the Edmond Levy Report is necessary to deal with land disputes and determine land ownership. Whatever is done will only become permanent with a signed agreement between the sides, but for internal reasons, vis a vis the High Court, the status of Israeli held lands must change.
  2. Roads, nature reserves, historical or archeological sites, and areas used for defense by the IDF should be placed in a special category that ideally will be managed jointly by Israel and Palestine (if the Palestinians ever decide to work with Israel). Even defense is a joint concern and should be managed jointly.  Here no visible change of status is needed as Israel has the right to manage such areas according to the Oslo Accords.
  3. The rest of the area, which is the majority of Area C should be “put is escrow” and managed by the Civil Administration for the benefit of the Arab population (basically) until the time that the PA is willing to do so themselves as part of a final agreement.

Such a plan will defuse, hopefully, some of the criticism that Israel will face by acting unilaterally. My brethren in Judea and Samaria will, undoubtedly, dislike any Palestinian state, but will accept an improved status quo in the belief that the PA will never fulfill its obligations.

As for myself, I can only pray for the day that the Palestinians replace their corrupt and violent leadership, abandon their hate and reach out for the hand extended to them. Perhaps believing in Peace is naive and utopian, but I see no other choice. The Palestinians won’t disappear and I have no plans in disappearing either. We both live in Judea and Samaria and we are destined to share it and to prosper. Through Peace, we will get together to Prosperity.

About the Author
Shlomo Toren has been a resident of Israel since 1980, and a transportation planner for the last 25 years. He has done demand modeling for the Jerusalem Light Rail and Road 6. He is married to Neera and lives in Shiloh.
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