My apologies for putting these two names in the same sentence: Anyone who holds dear John Lennon’s message to “Give Peace a Chance” might have misgivings when the likes of Donald Trump is the unlikely peacemaker. The man’s track-record is a case history of unprecedented, un-Presidential behavior. Before the 2016 elections, who would have thought that the next Middle East peace plan would, in bombastic, Trump-like fashion, be billed as the “Deal of the Century” like it was a promo for Black Friday?
There must be a better catchphrase for the new peace agenda. The first that comes to mind is the “Deal of the Penitentiary,” or the plan to stay out of it. Both Trump and his close associate, Bibi Netanyahu, must be getting antsy about their past indiscretions catching up with them. In truth, Trump didn’t foresee that soliciting a Ukrainian to discredit a Democrat would get him impeached, in the same way that Bibi didn’t realize that corrupting a newsman or two to secure friendly reporting would get him indicted. But in times when political immunity and elections are so intertwined, deals between pals like Bibi and Trump make nice distractions. Trump has to get reelected to keep his immunity, Bibi has withdrawn, for now, his request for immunity, and both leaders may face prosecution if they lose the 2020 elections in the US and Israel. Hence, the need for a life raft, even if it comes in the form of a peace plan which, from Bibi’s standpoint, was always seen as a last option.
Another name for Trump’s blueprint might be: the “Done Deal of the Century.” As opposed to the open-ended Oslo, the Trump initiative already envisions the final status. The overbearing American “mediation” is matched by the deal’s strong pro-Israel bias, manifested by Trump’s invitations of both Netanyahu and rival Benny Gantz to the White House while, for all intents and purposes, snubbing Abu Mazen. Ironically, maps of what Israel and Palestine will look like under the Done Deal are remarkably similar to what they would have looked like at the end of Oslo, had extremists on both sides been kept under control.
But the most fitting name for Trump’s plan is the “Steal of the Century,” as it is permitting Bibi and his zealous supporters to call for immediate and unilateral annexation of Jordan Valley settlements. Annexation without negotiation, and with or without the support of a “friendly” US president, amounts to a land grab.
Sane Israelis on both ends of the political spectrum must weigh the consequences of such a move. One of the main reasons behind the success of the Zionist movement is that the land of Israel was obtained by legitimate means. Contrary to the anti-Israel narrative, in pre-state times we didn’t come as “invaders.” We in fact legally bought vast lands from absentee Arab landlords, later gained recognition of our statehood at the UN and ultimately won our War of Independence. The lands we took in the defensive Six Day War are widely understood as the starting point for negotiation under UN Resolution 242, which Israel has long endorsed. Annexation runs contrary to the Zionist ideal and presents a danger to the Jewish and Democratic state we are trying to build here.
The bright spot is that Benny Gantz understands this, and knows that the security threat that would surely result from annexation, a third intifada, far outweighs the unrealistic claims of certain Israeli ultra-nationalists.
Donald Trump, of all people and for his own purposes, got the ball rolling. It’s up to the next Israeli leader to pick up the ball and run with it. If Bibi remains the proverbial quarterback, he will probably fall on it to run out the clock. If Benny Gantz gets his chance, he can pull off a hat trick and bring it to the end one.
But the only way that can happen is if both sides start what so many Israelis and Palestinians shrink away from, direct negotiations.