The Trump Peace Plan
A Great Effort Almost Certainly Doomed to Fail
I don’t pretend to complete accuracy, but it seems to me that almost all that I’ve read about the Trump “Deal of the Century” seems to have been negative. Most critics focus on, and reject, one or more or all aspects of the suggested outcome the Deal contemplates. For example, many reject the Deal because it contemplates the possibility of a Palestinian state. And many others reject the Deal because it contemplates, at least initially, a Palestinian state with some limitations on its powers and the inability to flood Israel with refugees. And then, if that weren’t enough, there are the millions who cannot see any merit of any kind in anything originating from the Trump White House and find “flaws” in the Deal to justify their view.
Aside from noticing this fact of almost universal rejection (if not also condemnation), I’ve noticed, also, that nearly all of the adverse commentary and knee-jerk rejectionism seems to miss certain absolutely fundamental, critical points in the Deal and thus they also miss, or deliberately conceal, the real reason for pessimism about the chances of implementation. We should be focusing on the fundamentals underlying the Deal, not its various hypothetical results nor its source. These fundamentals may have been implied in earlier attempts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian problem, but the forceful, insightful, explicit and explained way in which these are brought forward in the Deal seems new and important to me.
So, what is it that is so good about the Deal? It is the explicit statements of what absolutely must underlie and be part of any deal, the enunciation of the prerequisite common premises, as it were. These are not details of what border goes where, or whether there should or should not be security control areas or what happens to the Palestinian refugees or who will invest what where. These are the foundations of the logic which motivates parties towards, or away from, any possible deal.
One of the most important points for the parties and outsiders to any negotiation process to accept is, as stated in the Deal, the concept that “no plan will give either side all of what it wants.” Of equal importance is the statement “A peace agreement will be forged only when each side recognizes that it is better off with a peace agreement than without one, even one that requires difficult compromises.” A deal must also overcome the interests of some in maintaining the status quo.
These concepts require the participants to accept that they cannot have everything but need to look for that point where the less-than-everything leaves them in a better position overall than the present or any foreseeably likely future without an agreement. There simply cannot be an agreement while either side feels (or worse, both sides feel) it or they are entitled to all of what it or they think is their “right” or “due” or the inevitable result of what it thinks is “justice.” The statements above also point us towards a simple but derivative point: an agreement is not a self-achieving good in itself – it must advance the position of the parties beyond the present in some way which outweighs the apparent costs – and there will always be costs.
The banality and obviousness of the foregoing to anybody who has had any history of negotiations and mediation might explain why this aspect of the Deal is not being discussed in any detail. But it is fundamental and helps us identify the true and effective reason that there will be no deal, though we might all wish, with all our soul’s strength, that one would be reached.
Ultimately, without posing the questions explicitly, the Trump Deal tries to answer the following questions: “What could the PA offer Israel to induce Israel to agree to a settlement accomplishing at least some of the PA’s objectives?” “What could Israel offer the PA to induce the PA to enter into a settlement accomplishing at least some of Israel’s objectives?” These questions address the parties’ interests. And, appropriately, the Trump Deal is premised on a recognition that “peace” by itself, unmodified, is not the answer or achievable.
In approaching the matter from the point of view of the parties’ interests, and not “justice,” “righting wrongs” or any similar approach, Trump’s Deal is premised on a realistic understanding of what motivates – or prevents – parties to reach agreement.
The Deal then assumes it understands the parties’ interests and here is probably where pessimism has to enter the picture. Remember, we can assume that both sides want “peace,” but we must acknowledge that such an amorphous, imprecise, undetailed concept is not presently achievable (especially if even one of the sides defines “peace” as the achievement of its maximalist goals). Peace, if it is to be achieved in this part of the world, will be in the details of practical arrangements made in time and space. The Trump Deal has it right on this point.
So what are the interests of the parties identified in the Deal? Both have an interest in defined borders. Both have an interest in de jure as well as de facto recognition as a state/homeland by the other. But beyond platitudes and getting to practicalities, both explicitly and implicitly by the amount of attention given to the subjects, the Deal identifies security as the prime Israeli interest and posits a material improvement in the lives of ordinary Palestinians as their prime interest.
And this is where we are forced to identify why the Deal has so little chance of success. It is simply this: The negotiating party representing the Palestinians has no, or certainly insufficient, interest in improving the lives of ordinary Palestinians to make any compromise which might adversely impact the security of its kleptocratic dictatorship. We must note and commend the realistic attitude, indeed political bravery, of the Deal which posits the replacement of this kleptocratic dictatorship with a functioning meritocratic democracy as a prerequisite to Palestinian statehood.
The fact that a material improvement in the quality of life of the ordinary Palestinian people is insufficient to motivate compromises on the part of the PA leadership can be shown by a few salient, but unequivocal historical facts.
First and most obviously, the PA rejected the deal as unacceptable and not worth reading before any of the details were known, even though its stress on economic advancement had previously been made clear. This evidences a maximalist, anti-negotiations attitude and presages the stillbirth of any possible deal.
However, if that preemptive rejection were only excessive and imprudent “playing to the gallery” rhetoric and thus to be ignored, less explicit but no less obvious historical evidence suggests that the Palestinian people are pawns in a game which does not reflect their material interests.
First, there is a direct, obvious and inevitable causal connection between Hamas’s ongoing insistence on and diversion of funds to war and terrorism against Israel and the poor living conditions in Gaza. The latter (poor Gazan living conditions) are unintended by-products of Israel’s internationally recognized and legitimate security needs caused by the former (terrorism and Hamas’s diversion of resources thereto). Contrary to the protestations of Hamas’s “useful idiots” in the West, it is not the other way round. Yet Hamas persists, for reasons addressed in the Vision, with its rejection of Israel and commitment to violence when any rational governor with any concern at all for the governed would have foregone terrorism and a futile war, perhaps in exchange for the very economic support its people need. The Vision discusses this at pp. 10 and 13.
Secondly, there is the pan-Arab-world treatment of the Palestinian refugees. In virtually every Arab nation, these have been kept distinct and discriminated against, prevented from integrating, prevented from owing land, prevented from citizenship, prevented from certain professions up to and including today. The original group of somewhere between 600,000 and 800,000 who fled what became Israel has now grown to millions of an underclass with no future prospects whatsoever where they are. Of course, as pointed out in the Vision, UNRWA shares blame for this, along with the governments of the various Arab states. So far as I am aware, the PA has never objected to this nor called for any boycott of any Arab nation to force a change.
Thirdly, the history of maximalist demands by the PA which it knows can never be contemplated, let alone accommodated, in a democracy such as Israel combined with its support of terrorism – sometimes well organized and overt as in the case of the intifadas, sometimes less overt as in the case of rewarding terrorists with money and fame – has meant that its people have had to live under wholly necessary and appropriate Israeli security demands which inevitably impeded economic development. And yet the incitement continues.
Thus the main reason the Vision may fail is the fact that its primary beneficiaries – the Palestinian people – have no voice. And worse. The very factors which make PA acceptance of such a deal so unlikely, reinforce the belief of many – perhaps unfortunately too many – Israelis that the security situation at present is as good as it may ever get. These people, then, do not see much of an up-side from the Vision. History, and the clear unwillingness of the PA to change direction, make it exceedingly easy for many Israelis to reject the Vision’s call on them to compromise.
A great effort likely to fail. It won’t be Trump’s fault.