Victimization and Trump’s “Deal of the Century”

In 181 pages, including maps, the Trump administration released its Peace to Prosperity proposal. Also released was a flood of op ed’s, analysis, and commentary both critical and uncritical with all the expected perspectives of the political spectrum represented. J Street was opposed, AIPAC supportive, Jewish Republican Committee glowing, Jewish Democratic Committee hyper critical, pro-Palestinian groups dismissive, pro-Zionist groups for the most part enthusiastic. What is intriguing is the involvement and tacit initial acceptance of the proposal by Oman, Bahrain, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt; followed by outright rejection by the Arab League, which includes these same countries. Jordan has been quiet about its response. Sudan strangely has opened discussions with Israel after the proposals release.

The Palestinian Authority and Abbas have been vocal in their opposition to the proposal and even to be involved in the proposal’s development, reminding us of Abba Eban’s statement that “the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity”. Hamas has also been vocal in its negative response. Yet, even after calling for days of rage by the Palestinian Authority, the response of the Palestinian community, in both the West bank and Gaza, has been apathy and indifference. Those showing up for whatever pitiful demonstrations that have been taking place are civil servants and political hacks forced to come out and demonstrate against the proposal.

After examining the 181-page proposal, I would posit, that this proposal is no “deal of the century” for either Israel or the Palestinians. What it is, is a starting point for face to face discussions between the Israelis and whatever Palestinians brave enough and smart enough to understand that there can be no Palestinian State without some sound state building on the part of the Palestinians. The problem facing the Trump administration and the Israeli government willing to embrace the Peace to Prosperity proposal is that the proposal is based on an idea that the pragmatic economic needs of the Palestinian people should be first and foremost in reaching any agreements. Unfortunately, the concerns of Palestinian people are not part of the vision and perspective of either the Palestinian Authority, Fatah, Abbas, Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza. This unfortunate situation is repeated time and again. Just one example is the silence of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas on the horrible situation confronting Palestinians living in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have been murdered, imprisoned and forced from their homes in Syria and Iraq and in Lebanon and have been met with only silence from the PA and Hamas. A second example is the continued imprisonment and harassment of anyone in opposition to the actions of the PA and Hamas in the West Bank and Gaza.

Dr. Salam Fayyad, prime minister of the Palestinian authority from 2007-2013, tried to focus on building state institutions in the Palestinian Authority instead of conflict with Israel, and was stymied at every turn. In fact, I see much of Fayyad’s vision and effort in the infrastructure and economic development ideas embedded in the Trump proposal. The development of the 1.4-billion-dollar new Palestinian town, Rawabi city, would be the poster child of the Trump proposal vision of the future for a Palestinian State.

So, one of the problems facing the Trump administration is that there is ultimately no one willing to take on the issues embedded in the Peace for Prosperity document from the Palestinian side. That is one of the reasons why this document is flawed and even a bit naive. While the proposal clearly will benefit Palestinians economically and improve housing and infrastructure and provide for more uninterrupted contiguous territory than before. The leadership of both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas have clearly calculated that there is not enough in this proposal to move away from the status quo. Their leadership currently benefits from the status quo financially through corruption, bribery and acquisition of power. There is one more important problem that the Trump proposal does not confront. That problem is the issue of the Palestinian perception of their victimization.

Both Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews see themselves as victims. Israelis were victims of the Nazi murder of almost half of world Jewry by 1945, victims of massive pogroms, antisemitism, and discrimination in Russia at the end of the 19th and during much of the early 20th century, victims of discrimination, antisemitism and second class status in the Arab world, victims for just under one million Jews forced out of their homes in the Arab world after the 1948 declaration of a State of Israel.

Palestinians see themselves only as victims of the Jews and the State of Israel which “occupies” their land and “forced” around 1 million Palestinians off their lands which they want back. Israeli Jews channeled their victimization into building a country, in part, based on their view that they were an indigenous people returning to their native land; and in part as a place of refuge for persecuted Jews from around the world. The Jewish community in the late 19th century began to see that the only way to end their victimage was by rebuilding their homeland, Israel. They began their nation building effort in the late 19th century and even created shadow nation state institutions during the British Mandate period. The Israeli focus on the idea that it is their responsibility to deal with their national condition and create a state on their own is very different from the Palestinian perception of their victimage.

Palestinians from the beginning of the period of Arab nation building have seen themselves as victims of either the Ottoman Empire, the British and French colonial effort or the Jews and Israel. They have taken no responsibility for creating their own nation. From 1948 the Arab community of Palestine begin to see that their only way to end their shame of losing Palestine and ending their perceived victimage was to end the Jewish state. They blamed their condition as victims on the Jews and Israel. If their victimage is caused by the Jews, then the only way to recover from their victimage is by getting rid of the Jews and their state. This vision of the Palestinian condition has no place for either nation building, or for coexistence with a Jewish state.

Ignoring this fundamental problem of the perception of the victim in Palestinian culture, history, and ideology will lead to little or no movement on Trump’s “deal of the century”. Understanding Palestinian perception of victimage also explains why the Palestinian Authority and Hamas continue time and again, generation after generation to, as Abba Eban said, “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity”.

The one caveat, to what I have described above, is a new wrinkle in the Middle East. For the first time Saudi Arabia, Oman, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt are responding positively to the Trump initiative. They could provide some protection for any Palestinian leadership willing to engage the Israelis and the US on final status agreements. It remains to be seen where that Palestinian leadership will come from. Until there is a change in Palestinian perception of their victimage and a change of Palestinian leadership to put the Palestinian peoples’ needs before their own, this document released by the Trump administration will be still born.

About the Author
Dr. Samuel M. Edelman has served as the first executive director of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles. Currently he is one of the founding faculty members of the new Academic Council for Israel, and its executive director, and a member of the Academic Engagement Network (AEN).
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