“There was a wedding today. The groom showed up. The bride stayed home and wished the groom dead. And everyone clapped.” — A caustic assessment of the “deal of the century,” attributed to Meir Jolovitz, Middle East Radio, Phoenix, Ariz. (Courtesy of my Facebook friend Jan Sniderman)

Over the years, I have expressed what are generally considered distinctly hardline, hawkish views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

I categorically opposed any notion entailing the establishment of a Palestinian state and any withdrawal from territory currently under Israel’s administration, west of the Jordan.

Given my past positions, I should, of course, vigorously reject the “deal of the century” as proposed last week by the Trump administration, which does involve both these elements.

Indeed, the proposal offers Israel huge benefits that would have been unthinkable barely three years ago, but it also includes grave detriments that seriously undermine both its desirability from a partisan Israeli point of view and its practicality from a more objective point of view.

So the crucial consideration must be whether in the long run, the overall beneficial impact of accumulated positive components outweighs (or is outweighed by) the overall detrimental impact of the accumulated negative components.

Making such an appraisal is, of course, not an easy task—and is getting more complex as time progresses. For what it was initially understood to entail has become shrouded in subsequent “clarifications,” which did little to clarify anything.

Indeed, making a measured assessment of the overall merits (or lack thereof) is a little like trying to hit a rapidly moving target; just when you think you have it in your sights, it turns out that you don’t.

Thus, what originally appeared to be a U.S. endorsement of the immediate extension of Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and the large settlement blocks turned out to be a deferred endorsement, contingent on the formation of a committee—and its subsequent deliberations—with eventual sovereignty being delayed until after the March 2020 elections.

This, regrettably, raises several perturbing question marks regarding the practical value of the “deal” for Israel.

The basic elements

Putting aside for the moment the admittedly weighty issue of the timing of the application of Israeli sovereignty, in the broadest of brush strokes, the basic elements of the “deal” as presented at the White House were as follows:

Israeli Sovereignty: The United States will recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley, the major Jewish settlement blocs and an undivided Jerusalem, within the present contours of the security barrier, as the undivided capital of Israel. Sovereignty will also be applied to Jewish communities beyond the major blocs, which although accessible by road would be in the unenviable position of being isolated enclaves surrounded by Palestinian-Arab territory.

Security: Security in the entire area—from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River—will fall under control of the Israel Defense Forces for an indeterminant period of time.

Borders and Airspace: The external borders, airspace and electromagnetic spectrum are to remain under Israeli control.

Refugees: There will be no “Right of Return.” Palestinian-Arab refugees will not be resettled in Israel.

These are all clearly significant and tangible benefits for Israel. Their net value, however, must be weighed against the countervailing returns envisaged for the Palestinian-Arab side.

In this regard, the “deal” envisions any benefits to the Palestinian side as being both deferred and contingent on the fulfillment of a number of onerous conditions.

This, unsurprisingly, has elicited harsh responses from pro-Palestinian sources. According to Tareq Baconi of the International Crisis Group, cited in a recent NPR article: “ … it [the plan] places Palestinians on probation while they prove their worthiness of statehood, using conditions that are malleable and ill-defined; it seeks to induce Palestinian capitulation through economic largesse; and it removes the onus on Israel to make any concessions until Palestinians declare their full surrender.

It’s not difficult grasp why the Palestinian Arabs take such a dim view of the proposal, which an infuriated Mahmoud Abbas rejected with “a 1000 ‘no’s.”

For although the “deal” does trace a path to eventual Palestinian statehood on about 70 percent of Judea and Samaria, including significant portions of Area C, currently under sole Israeli control, this depends on the Palestinian-Arab side complying with several significant provisos over a period of four years.

Among others, these include:

• Recognizing Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people

• Ceasing the funding of terrorists and their families

• Ending Judeophobic incitement

• Disarming Hamas and Islamic Jihad

• Establishing an orderly civil society by eradicating corruption, respecting human rights and permitting a free press.

Only after these conditions are met will America recognize a Palestinian state and implement a massive economic plan—reportedly $50 billion—to assist it. Moreover, some sort of “safe passage,” such as a tunnel, between Gaza and the Palestinian areas in Judea and Samaria is planned.

Is it a good deal?

 So, on the surface, the “deal” appears a highly advantageous one for Israel.

It entails immediate or soon to be realized enhancement of the standing of Jewish communities, entrenches Israel’s hold over the strategically vital Jordan Valley, ensures the status of Jerusalem as the country’s undivided capital, and maintains Israel’s indefinite control over the borders and airspace.

Thus, the former head of Israel’s Internal Security (Shin Bet), Yoram Cohen, summed it up as follows: ”From Israel’s point of view, this is a great achievement. … We have received almost all of our security requirements we’ve sought for years. Continued counterterrorism in the West Bank, security in the Jordan Valley as well, the request for Gaza disarmament and responsibility for counterterrorism after giving them a state or autonomy. We’ve got everything we want except the safe passage issue, but I’m not sure we’ll really get to it.”

According to Cohen: “The most dramatic things are Jerusalem and the Old City that will remain under Israeli sovereignty, the legitimization of all settlements [by] the U.S., the abolishment of the right of return and transfer 30 percent of Judea and Samaria to Israeli sovereignty. In this area I think Israel has great achievements.”

Moreover, some astute analysts have very cogently pointed out that perhaps the greatest merit of the “deal” is that it has upended the mendacious Palestinian narrative, which hitherto has largely defined international attitudes to the conflict (see here, here and here).

There are, however, other considerations that could countermand the accumulated advantages that the proposal heralds for Israel—or, at least, severely erode their value.

Does the ‘deal’ address Israel’s twin imperatives?

In this regard, I have been at pains to underscore that for Israel to endure, in the long run, as the nation-state of the Jewish people, it must adequately address both its Geographic Imperative and its Demographic Imperative—see for example here (2012), here (2015), here (2017), here (2019) and here (2019).

Addressing the former precludes undertaking perilous territorial concessions that would make Israel untenable geographically. Addressing the later precludes the presence of a large-scale, recalcitrant non-Jewish population within the contours of the sovereign Jewish nation-state that would make Israel untenable demographically.

Given the fact that the “deal” stipulates that the IDF will remain deployed throughout the territory, and that Israel will control both the airspace and electromagnetic spectrum above it, it would appear that the Geographic Imperative is largely addressed.

With the Demographic Imperative, the situation is distinctly different. After all, according to the plan’s parameters, the entire Arab population will remain in place west of Jordan.

True, they will not have political rights within Israel, but as I have pointed out repeatedly, the demographic danger to the status of Israel is not solely or even chiefly dependent on whether or not the inherently hostile Palestinian-Arab population is enfranchised or not. For their impact at the ballot box would hardly be less than their impact on the sociocultural fabric of the country—see for example here (2019), here (2017), here (2015), here (2014) and here (2013)—inevitably imperiling the ability of Israel to sustain its dominantly Jewish character.

Perpetuate the situation, rather than resolve it?

Whether or not the “deal” is implemented, the reality will be that Israel will be left with a significant, inimical non-Jewish population within the territory, which it is obliged to control at least militarily for its vital security needs.

After all, if the “deal” is eventually implemented, the Arab population in Judea and Samaria (and Gaza Strip) will be left with limited, sub-sovereign rights—making the accusations of discrimination on the basis of ethnic origins not only inevitable, but difficult to refute. If, on the other hand, the “deal” is not implemented after the pledged extension of Israeli sovereignty, the Arabs of Judea and Samaria (and Gaza) will remain in their current situation under the dysfunctional rule of a corrupt kleptocracy in the former and the tyrannical theocracy in the latter.

Of course, if the “deal” is implemented, one of the major considerations will be the degree of freedom of movement into Israel afforded the Arab residents of “Palestine.” If they have relatively unfettered access to Israeli beaches, shopping malls, entertainment centers and so on, the impact on the sociocultural fabric will be greatly enhanced; if not, “Palestine “will become a ghetto-like enclave and a lighting rod for anti-Israeli censure and possible sanctions.

So whether or not it is actually implemented, the new Mideast peace plan cannot effectively address Israel’s demographic menace, but only perpetuate it.

The question of Gaza and succession

The “deal” also calls for the disarming of the terror groups in Gaza—chiefly, Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Leaving aside the feasibility of such a worthy objective, let us suppose for a moment that it could be achieved. Then how would a demilitarized Gaza, which abuts the Sinai, withstand any onslaughts for the jihadi elements that abound in the peninsula, frustrating Egyptian efforts to subdue them?

Would the IDF be redeployed in Gaza? If not, who would be responsible for the external security of the coastal enclave? Would the Palestinian Authority be armed sufficiently to meet impending threats from Sinai, especially if Egyptians find the burden of contending the jihadi insurgents too onerous, and withdraw from the peninsula to deal with the mounting challenges elsewhere (see for example here and here)?

No less grave is the question of the durability of the conditions prescribed by the plan.

After all, even if, against all odds, the current Palestinian-Arab leadership agrees to accept the conditions prescribed for statehood, who can guarantee that it will not be replaced—by bullet or ballot—with far less amenable successors, who repudiate these conditions and revert to a resumption of hostilities against the Jewish state? And if such a scenario came about, could Israel retract its recognition of Palestinian “statehood” and reinstate the status quo ante?

The cost and the humanitarian alternative

Apart from the $50 billion aid package from the United States intended to boost the Palestinian economy, the “deal” envisages a dizzying array of overpasses and underpasses, bridges and tunnels connecting the various Palestinian-allotted territories in Judea and Samaria, as well as an approximately 30 mile long tunnel, linking Gaza with the “West Bank” (Judea and Samaria), which alone is estimated as costing up to $15 billion.

Indeed, although the true cost of the plan is not only unknown, but almost impossible to assess with any accuracy, one thing is beyond doubt: It will certainly carry a price tag that reaches into the tens of billions to produce results that at best will be tenuous.

The underlying flaws are inherent in its very essence. Although it is certainly a huge improvement on previous attempts to resolve the conflict between Jews and Arabs over control of the Holy Land, it is still afflicted by the same defects that afflicted its predecessors. It fails to come to terms with the stark reality that there is no way to devise a scheme that can resolve this conflict by a division (however ingenious) of the land from “the River to the Sea” between two inimical collectives with irreconcilable founding narratives.

Thus, there is no way to convert an intrinsically “zero sum” game into a “win-win” solution. Any attempt to do so is doomed to inevitable failure.

It is for this reason that for the last decade-and-a-half, I have urged Israel to launch a large-scale initiative for the incentivized emigration of the Arab population of Judea and Samaria, in addition to Gaza, as the only strategic measure that can adequately address both Israel’s Geographic and Demographic Imperatives. It is towards this end that the billions planned to be invested in the “deal” should be channeled.

Epilogue: What to do?

In the final analysis, what should Israel do?

My sense is that Israel should accept the plan secure in the knowledge it will be rejected by the Palestinians, who will not—indeed, cannot—comply with the conditions required of them. Thus, the Israelis will reap tangible benefits with the negligible risk of future Palestinian compliance.

It should, however, do so before the upcoming March elections: For who knows whether a future coalition headed by Benny Gantz’s Blue and White would or could support such far-reaching unilateral moves by Israel?

After all, there is no better time to strike than when the iron is hot!

Martin Sherman is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.

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