Steven Horowitz
Steven Horowitz

Trump, Abbas and Aqaba Two

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will be coming to Washington in mid-April, and US President Donald Trump will offer him a deal that the PLO veteran will be loath to accept. But it appears as if the new American administration, as well as Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel have already decided on the shape of a regional approach to the moribund two-state solution. But such a state envisioned by Netanyahu and his regional Arab friends will fall far short of the long-held PLO strategy of the complete elimination of Israel from the Jordan River Valley.

Now, in the midst of an existential struggle between the Arab Sunni states and Iran, it is clear that the weak PLO leadership has taken a back seat to the incorporation of Israel into a regional alliance system. Netanyahu believes in the two-state solution, but with two caveats. First, Israel needs a permanent presence to assure its security on the Eastern front (the Jordan River Valley). This demand is paramount to any successful final status agreement. And second, Israel must be recognized as a Jewish state. Bibi stated his two conditions at his press conference with US President Donald Trump last month. In other words, the Israeli PM is ready to make many compromises — and even risk breaking up his current right-wing coalition — with the very real prospect that his two conditions are met, and a two-state solution with the regional leadership of Sunni Arab states can emerge.

Trump is certainly ready to play ball. Such a prospective regional conference — as was held secretly with the Obama administration, Netanyahu, Sisi and the Jordanian king last year in Aqaba, Jordan — would cement Donald Trump into the history books and probably (if successful) earn him a Nobel Peace Prize. The same is true for Bibi, the Sunni kings and the Egyptian president. For a political leader there is only one thing more tempting than temporal power, it is the lure of a permanent place in world history. Trump and Netanyahu appear to be on the same page. And from the news reports that have just emerged regarding the secret summit at Aqaba last February, the Sunni Arab states are ready to compromise fully on Bibi’s demands. That is, for Israel to be recognized as a Jewish state with a full security apparatus permanently on the Jordan River Valley (from the river to the heights above).

Ironically the only thing standing in the way of a successful negotiation of the two-state solution is Abbas and the PLO. Abbas wants an alternative two-state solution. He envisions a state bordering Jordan as a stepping stone to an eventual challenge to the Hashemite Kingdom. In the Trans-Jordan area of historic eastern Palestine (Jordan), Palestinian-Jordanians are in the majority. Once a West Bank Palestinian state is accomplished (without an Israeli presence in the valley) this eastern population of Palestinians will demand a Jordan once again linked to the West Bank state through federation (similar to the period of 1949-1967). This has long been the PLO plan. Bibi and the vast majority of Israelis (90%) would never give up an Israeli security presence on the uber-strategic Jordan River Valley. But this is the PLO’s demand, and it is the primary reason that the two-state solution has remained dormant for the past twenty-five years.

But now, the regional geopolitical dynamic is far more important than the mere machinations of the PLO. The Sunni Arab world is at a crossroads. Israel is now seen as a powerful force in the protection of Arabs against Persian designs for the region. And Israel would welcome permanent integration with its Arab neighbors. Bibi wants a two-state solution, but a two-state solution without any Palestinian control over the border with Jordan. Abbas must know that the Sunni Arab states are ready to deal, and this can only mean that Netanyahu’s two conditions have theoretically been met. This is astounding news, and it places the long-held Israeli interpretation of the two-state solution firmly within view.

When future negotiations are framed with powerful regional Sunni Arab players in coordination with Bibi and Trump; and when these same negotiations are couched in the language of Israel’s security and endorsed by the American establishment and the Jordanian monarchy; the Palestinians risk being bypassed altogether. Even Elizabeth Warren and most Democrats in the US Senate would welcome the new regional two-state solution. Of course, the Palestinians could always agree to a rump autonomy-plus state. But they won’t agree to such a “state” because is not their interpretation of the two-state solution.

The PLO is now caught between Iran and a hard place. I believe that most Palestinians, on both sides of the river, would prefer a greater East Bank-West Bank Palestinian state with an eventual army facing down on Israel from the heights overlooking Tel Aviv on the West Bank. But, of course, no Israeli would ever agree to this (100%). But Israel will negotiate in good faith over the parameters established at the secret Aqaba One conference in February of 2016. This is especially true since the election of a strong, pro-Israel, Republican president last November. Bibi has far more faith in Donald J. Trump than he ever had in Barack H. Obama.

So what can the PLO do? They can’t go to the UN, Trump now blocks that road. They can’t call for a strict bilateral negotiation, this would achieve nothing but a rump autonomy-plus “state” leading to further deadlock and another failure for the Oslo process. The only game in town is now the regional solution. Perhaps the PLO could go to Moscow. But Putin is now integral to the Iranian camp. And the Kremlin-Tehran rapprochement is getting Moscow more and more sucked in with each passing day. Plus, such a move by Abbas would be perceived by the Sunni Arab states as treasonous.

Unlike Obama, Trump is now moving toward a hard policy against Iran, and Abbas risks totally alienating Washington and Riyadh and Cairo in some kind of vain hope of re-establishing a pro-Tehran rejection camp. Also Putin is not a pro-Palestinian militant. He’s a Russian leader whose tactical approach to the US election has backfired badly. I’m certain that Putin and his Kremlin associates would rather have a “Grand Bargain” with Trump or Merkel — with regard to the future of both Europe and the Middle East — than risk a confrontation with the West over the future of Europe or Iranian hegemony in the Middle East. But Trump is under a lot of pressure with regard to Moscow. In fact, both Trump and Putin would probably welcome a regional Arab-Israeli negotiation to help repair their damaged relations. At the least, such a negotiation would give them an aura of much needed cover in an attempt to find common ground in other areas. An Aqaba Two conference would give both superpower leaders an opening to establish better relations.

So what will be Abbas say to President Trump when they meet in mid-April? Trump will ask the Palestinian whether or not he is on-board with regard to Netanyahu’s two conditions. Sisi will be on-board. Forget what he said at the Arab Summit. The same is true for the Jordanians and the Saudis. Now that the Sunni Arab states and Israel have Trump’s full military attention with regard to Iran, they would hand the American president “the deal of deals” without blinking an eye. In the process, and when faced with an existential crisis across the region, all parties concerned wouldn’t hesitate to squeeze the two-state solution into the autonomy-plus formula long endorsed by Israel.

So what should Abbas say? The only thing he can say — unless he wants to accept an autonomy-plus rump “state” solution — is that Jordan is a part of historic Palestine, and that all Palestinians living on the West Bank are still Jordanian citizens (as established by King Abdullah I and never rescinded). Furthermore the Palestinian leader should relay to the American president that all Jordanian citizens, on both banks of the river, demand a referendum to create a Palestinian/Jordanian republic to negotiate the terms of peace with Israel. The passage of such a referendum should then lead to a constitutional congress to construct the basis for the republic. Furthermore Abbas should inform Trump he plans to be a delegate at such a constitutional congress. In other words, democracy for Jordanian citizens would become the new Palestinian byword.

This democratic first plank of a four-point peace proposal was originally brought to Yasir Arafat in 1985 by the ex-Secretary General of the UN, Kurt Waldheim. In 1986 the full peace proposal was published in the book “How Peace Came To The World” (MIT Press). It had the endorsement of President Ronald Reagan. Arafat rejected the plan, and with it, a republic and the democratic road forward for all East Bank and West Bank Jordanians.

Now Abbas and the PLO are being given a second chance. The whole world will be watching. G-d works in very mysterious ways. And if the Palestinians ever want a true and democratic state, they must include Jordan and East Bank territory within a non-violent political solution. This plan offers the Arab community of Jordan-Palestine a chance at real statehood and real freedom. The Arab royal houses and Egypt’s Sisi offer only a rump-autonomy “state” in a region of permanent Arab autocracy.

Palestine could lead the way at a second chance for a true Arab Spring. But this is truly the PLO’s last chance. Maximal positions will be exposed by Israel and now the Sunni Arab states. So, the Palestinian leadership must adopt a values-based proposal that could lead to a Palestinian-Jordanian federal republic; with shared rule and peaceful co-existence for Arab and Jew on the West Bank. Jerusalem could become the capital of both Israel and such an Arab democratic federation. The American establishment and Israel would be hard pressed to say no to democracy for Jordanian citizens on both banks of the river.

No matter what, the Arab peoples should know that Israel, as a Jewish state, will remain on the Jordan River Valley as a bulwark against Iran and Iran’s surrogates. And that Israel’s enemy need not be its brother Arabs — both peoples were fathered by Abraham, and his burial was accomplished together, by Issac and Ishmael, through Biblical reconciliation at Hebron. Now the circle of history must turn once again. Yes, G-d works in very mysterious ways.

About the Author
Steven Horowitz has been a farmer, journalist and teacher spanning the last 45 years. He resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. During the 1970's, he lived on kibbutz in Israel, where he worked as a shepherd and construction worker. In 1985, he was the winner of the Christian Science Monitor's Peace 2010 international essay contest. He was a contributing author to the book "How Peace came to the World" (MIT Press).