columnMiddle East

The ‘deal of the century’ illuminates a century-old conflict 

Although the new U.S. proposal is unlikely to achieve its purported goal, it underscores certain facts long debated and now confirmed, and sheds light on the future path for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Palestinians burn images of U.S. President Donald Trump during a protest against the U.S. Middle East peace plan in the West Bank city of Nablus on Jan. 28, 2020. Photo by Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90.
Palestinians burn images of U.S. President Donald Trump during a protest against the U.S. Middle East peace plan in the West Bank city of Nablus on Jan. 28, 2020. Photo by Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90.
Steve Frank
Steve Frank
Steve Frank is an attorney, retired after a 30-year career as an appellate lawyer with the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. His writings on Israel, the law and architecture have appeared in numerous publications, including “The Washington Post,” “The Chicago Tribune,” “The Jerusalem Post,” “The Times of Israel” and “Moment” magazine.
The Trump administration has just released the long-anticipated “deal of the century,” designed to resolve the seemingly intractable Arab-Israeli conflict. Before commenting on the plan, everyone should actually read it. It is a remarkably comprehensive document spelling out the concrete steps necessary to bring to reality the long-sought-after two-state solution to the conflict. We shall not see another such prospect for peace and prosperity in the region in our lifetime.
Unfortunately, this creative proposal is dead on arrival. Although the Israelis immediately embraced the plan, the Palestinians rejected it. Indeed, they rejected it years before it was finalized or made public. As early as January 2018, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas called the Trump plan a “slap in the face.” He greeted its actual unveiling with the response of “a thousand nos.” Palestinians designated the day of the plan’s unveiling as a “day of rage” and took to the streets in protest.
What is particularly unfortunate is that the economic development part of the plan—which comprises the vast majority of the overall peace proposal—is devoted to significantly improving the lives of the Palestinian people. It focuses in great detail on economic development in the proposed State of Palestine and promises $50 billion in economic assistance, which would create a million jobs in the West Bank and Gaza, reduce Palestinian poverty by half and double the Palestinians’ GDP. However, last year, the Palestinian leadership rejected this part of the plan out of hand and boycotted the conference in Bahrain where it was discussed.
As the late Israeli statesman Abba Eban famously said, “The Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”
Although the new proposal is unlikely to achieve its purported goal, it is a useful exercise because it underscores certain facts long debated and now confirmed, and sheds light on the future path for resolving the conflict.
1.  The two-state solution is dead (and was never alive in the first place).
The two-state solution to the conflict has long been favored by most interested parties. Notably absent from that group are the Palestinians themselves, who have rejected generous offers to create their own state on at least six occasions (in 1937, 1948, 1967, 2000, 2008, 2013), not including the present proposal.
By now, it should be apparent to any rational person that, based on the historical record, the reason the two-state solution has failed is because the Arabs do not actually want their own independent state living in peace next to the State of Israel. It is apparent that they never have—and never will—accept the existence of a Jewish state in what they consider to be “historic Palestine,” which includes present-day Israel. If there was any doubt about that, just listen to the Palestinians’ present-day chant for the “liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea” (from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, meaning both the West Bank and all of present-day Israel).
Although proponents of the two-state model repeatedly proclaim that it is the “only solution” to the conflict, 100 years of history demonstrate that this “solution” is a delusion untethered to reality. If the two-state solution was not dead before the Palestinians rejected the latest proposal, their refusal to even consider the current plan is the last nail in the coffin.
2.  The Palestinian cause is dead.
The newly-released plan also reflects the growing realization that the Palestinian cause should not necessarily be a priority on the world stage. The Encyclopedia of the Stateless Nations cites claims for statehood of more than 350 stateless peoples. Many are ancient peoples who have had their own separate identities for centuries, including 45 million Kurds, 6 million Tibetans, 70 million stateless Tamils in Southern India, 30 million Igbos in Nigeria, 30 million Sikhs in India, 10 million Ahwazi Arabs in Iran, the Basques, the Catalans and more.
The elevation of the Palestinian narrative over the last few decades is especially anomalous given that, unlike other stateless people, the stateless status of the Palestinians is largely self-inflicted. As discussed above, they are the only stateless people who have turned down repeated offers of statehood and independence over the last hundred years.
They are also the only stateless people who have repeatedly and routinely turned to indiscriminate violence and terrorism in pursuit of their goals, including years of hostage-taking, plane hijackings, stone-throwing, stabbings and suicide-bombings, leaving thousands of innocent civilians dead and maimed. In spite of their own desperate conditions, the Kurds, the Tibetans and other stateless peoples have never turned their call for statehood into an excuse for mass murder.
In short, to the extent that the current plan fails to fulfill the fantasies of Palestinian extremists, it reflects the world’s growing weariness with a terrorist organization disguised as an independence movement.
3.  There is an inevitable alternative.
The Palestinian rejection of a seventh offer for an independent state does not mean that there are no alternatives available to resolve or at least temper this long-standing conflict.
The final steps of the 1993 Oslo Accords—the latest (and only) peace accord negotiated between the parties—could be implemented. Many are unaware of the fact that, under the Accords, for the last 25 years the Palestinians have ruled themselves, with their own government, their own police force, their own courts, their own schools, without the presence of a sustained Israeli military force in Areas A and B of the West Bank.
This agreement remains in force today, and the Palestinians should be given even greater autonomy in those areas if possible. They should remain in control of their own autonomous region and possibly achieve statehood one day. Until that day comes, there is no reason the valuable economic-development part of the Trump plan could not still be implemented, with the parties’ cooperation.
Contrary to the view expressed by many anti-Israel advocates, this notion does not amount to “apartheid.” The concept of autonomous regions within existing states is well recognized in today’s world. For example, there is Kashmir in Pakistan; there are 17 autonomous communities in Spain; 117 autonomous communities in China; several autonomous Indian nations in the United States; 14 autonomous regions in India; several self-governing Crown dependencies (Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man) which are not part of the United Kingdom but where the U.K. is responsible for defense and international affairs; and 13 other British Overseas Territories (including Gibraltar) which have autonomy in internal affairs through local legislatures.
There is even the example of Puerto Rico, a commonwealth of the United States, whose residents elect their own legislative assembly, a governor, and a representative to the U.S. House of Representatives, but cannot vote in presidential elections and whose representative in the House has no vote. No one calls Puerto Rico an “apartheid” state.
As for Area C, where the majority of Israeli “settlers” presently live in major blocs in close proximity to Jerusalem, Israeli sovereignty and law should be extended to this area and all of its residents, including Palestinians, should be accorded full Israeli citizenship.
In short, the Palestinians should be accorded every essential ingredient of statehood except defense and international affairs, just as with other autonomous regions in the world.  Israeli law should be extended to that part of the West Bank where the vast majority of the Jewish settlers live and which no one—not even Palestinian leaders—realistically expect Israel to abandon.
The deal of the century may have failed to achieve its ultimate goal, but its proposal and rejection by the Palestinians have illuminated the conflict as it exists in 2020. Parts of the plan, particularly its hugely beneficial economic development plan, may live on in the years to come. But as to other unresolved issues, most importantly the matter of sovereignty, it is time to move on. As Rabbi Hillel said: “If not now, when?”
Steve Frank is retired after a 30-year career as an appellate lawyer with the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. His writings on Israel, the law and architecture have appeared in publications such as “The Washington Post,” “The Chicago Tribune,” “The Baltimore Sun,” “The Jerusalem Post,” “The Times of Israel” and “Moment” magazine. 
The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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