Immediately following the April 9 elections in Israel, we anticipate that U.S. President Donald Trump will present his “deal of the century” to the new government. What will Israel’s response be, other than waiting for Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas to turn it down? Does Israel have an alternative proposal? If Israel rejects all or part of the plan, it will be asked for its alternative. The following could be that alternative. It is based on a real understanding of the interests of both Jews and Arabs living in Judea and Samaria.
Israel needs to phase out of working with the Palestinian Authority, and instead begin working directly with local leaders in Judea and Samaria, who would be responsible for domestic self-government. This is not a new idea. Prior to Oslo, this was the Israeli military’s recommended plan, but at the time neither the Israeli nor American governments were supportive. Perhaps it is time to reconsider.
Here are a few reasons why:
- The idea of a singular Palestinian people is a myth.
Culturally, those who live in Hebron have little in common with or affection for those in Ramallah. The same is true for each of the major enclaves throughout Judea and Samaria. According to Harold Rhode, a senior fellow at the Gatestone Institute and a former U.S. Pentagon adviser on Islamic affairs, the families of one city in Judea and Samaria will not let their children marry those of another city in Judea and Samaria. Their family connections are with sister cities directly to the east, in Jordan.
Mordechai Kedar, noted Israeli scholar of Islamic culture, is advocating for a demilitarized “Palestinian Emirates” concept for this reason. He notes that the greatest peace and stability in the Middle East is to be found where each tribe governs itself; i.e., in the United Arab Emirates.
- P.A. corruption and incitement cannot be rewarded.
The Palestinian people are fed up. You would think that because of the P.A.’s ability to attract billions in aid, it would be well-supported by the Palestinians. However, recent polls by the Palestinian Coalition for Accountability and Integrity (AMAN) show that 81 percent do not trust the P.A. government. Other polls indicate that almost two-thirds want Abbas to resign.
Abbas, who is 14 years into a four-year term, has a reported net worth of more than $100 million, according to Muhammad Rashid, head of the Palestinian Investment Fund. Castles dot Judea and Samaria where the Palestinian leadership lives. Abbas recently purchased a $50 million airplane and was building a $17.5 million home on a palatial estate, with four stories and two helicopter pads, until the “Palestinian street” erupted. It is currently slated to serve as a library.
Some $300 million dollars per year, or 7 percent to 10 percent of the P.A.’s annual budget, is spent rewarding the families of those who have killed or planned to kill Jews. For Israelis, this is morally abhorrent, yet Abbas says this is non-negotiable. In addition, Palestinians who express criticism of Abbas are regularly thrown in jail. Is this the picture of a government the United States would want to increase its investment in?
- Financial incentives need to actually be channeled to Arabs living in Judea and Samaria.
The “deal of the century” may include significant financial incentives, as the Israeli-Egyptian peace deal did. Such incentives might also be designed to encourage North Korea to negotiate away its nuclear program. But to whom would those incentives go? To the P.A.?
Those interested in government efficiency stress the importance of state and local governments making decisions on spending, not a centralized bureaucracy. Lawful societies that efficiently spend on infrastructure, health care and the welfare of their citizens provide the foundation for thriving economies. The P.A. is the largest recipient of international aid in the world. But with all of this aid, Arab communities in Judea and Samaria still have major infrastructure problems and are almost completely dependent on Israel for employment.
Doesn’t the principle of “local government knows best” apply in Judea and Samaria? Don’t local leaders know what is needed to improve their communities?
- The best chance to address the core religious issue is by beginning locally.
We all know that underlying the territorial dispute, the Arab-Israeli conflict is a religious dispute. The Koran calls for advancing Muslim law around the world. Israel was, for a time, under Muslim law, and now it is not.
At the same time, Muslim leaders respect strength, and religious Jews who understand their culture and speak their language. If there were some level of local stability, there might be a possibility for dialogue between local religious leaders. In Hebron, there is an occasional spark of discussion between religious Jews and Muslims. There is little chance of any type of dialogue, however, when the P.A. leadership has as its singular focus destroying Israel and incentivizing the killing of Jews.
For all of these reasons (economic, cultural and religious), both the Arabs and the Jews would be much better off to transition to different peace partners—namely, the individual cities of Judea and Samaria. If the United States hopes to have any chance of success with its “deal of the century” it needs to support an effort that reflects the situation on the ground and has a chance to lead to at least a transitional peace. Working directly with local leaders instead of the P.A. could be the most important first step. It’s worth a try.
Gary Schiff is a Jerusalem-based natural resource consultant connecting Israel and the United States.