A new Middle East “peace plan” is gestating and, according to the Trump administration itself, nearly ready to hatch.
It is easy to be cynical. Peace plans have been produced by various administrations and yet, there is no peace.
On the other hand, the Trump administration—as it has on other issues—is laying the groundwork differently. The refusal of the Palestinian Authority to engage with the president’s envoys, interestingly, has not stopped the shuttle with Israel and Arab states (including a reported joint meeting between Israeli, American and Arab intelligence chiefs), and decisively telling the Palestinians that they will not be paid for attending—and, in fact, have assets to lose by not participating.
We don’t, of course, know the American endgame or its likelihood of success, but there are basically only two possibilities:
- The establishment of a Palestinian state with “security guarantees” for Israel; or
- Recognition by the Arab states and Palestinians of Israel as a legitimate and permanent state in the region.
If it is the former, it is doomed.
Current Palestinian leadership believes—and encourages people to kill and die for—the principle that Jews are running a country on Palestinian land. That the Galilee, Haifa, Jaffa, Ashkelon and Beersheva belong in the Palestinian Arab state. Not to mention Jerusalem. Given that, why would anyone expect the Palestinians to agree to accept a truncated state separated and squeezed by Israel, Jordan and Egypt? They have their “narrative” and want what they say is theirs.
The Palestinian Authority is not participating in the preliminary talks because the option of agreeing that Israel gets to stay on “Palestinian land” in perpetuity is impossible. The benefit of prior “peace plans” for the P.A. is that its leaders could take what they were offered—settlement freezes, money, status, etc.—and continue to work towards the day when they, not the Jews, would be in charge. Under that scenario, “security guarantees” for Israel are meaningless.
Any plan with hopes of success must start with the legitimacy and permanence of the State of Israel. U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 (1967) lays on the Arab states responsibility for “termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.” Resolution 242 has been on the books for 51 years. It is time the Arab states (minus Jordan and Egypt, which have done so) accept their responsibility.
Political life in the region did not begin with the Oslo Accords in 1993, when the Palestinians were treated for the first time in history as a political entity. It began in earnest long before the independence of Israel in 1948, when there were just Arab states that invaded Israel in an attempt to destroy it. Had the Arab states had accepted their defeats in that war and additional wars they initiated in 1956, 1967 and 1973, there wouldn’t be Palestinian refugees. If Arab states hadn’t provided political and financial support to Palestinian terrorist organizations when they realized they couldn’t wipe Israel out with their Soviet-style armies, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
The Palestinians are not just Israel’s problem to solve. Arabs put Palestinians in camps with multigenerational refugees. There isn’t a single Palestinian refugee camp in Israel. To think that the Palestinian refugee problem created by Arab rejectionism can be resolved by Israel in the space between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is misguided and impossible.
The children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of people who may have been displaced 70 years ago are not refugees. They are victims of Arab intransigence over the creation of Israel and their own indifference to Palestinian misery. Arab states imprison them, and the United Nations feeds them—and they have little future to contemplate.
The Palestinians must become citizens of actual countries. And it is not impossible. The Palestinian leadership claims 6 million “refugees.” (UNRWA says 5 million). OK. Two million are citizens of Jordan but still hold refugee status—something not legitimate in international refugee law, incidentally. Another 2 million live in areas that are the putative Palestinian state, governed by Palestinians. That takes care of 4 million of the 5 million or even 6 million. Certainly, international aid money will have to follow that determination.
The Arab states should step up for the Palestinians.
The Trump administration has talked about billions in Arab investment in Palestinian areas, but the problem is not a lack of money. The actual investment follows legal and economic systems designed to return profits to the investors, like Israel. To get there, Palestinian society must come off its war footing and agree to harness the talent and capability of individual Palestinians with their closest and best trading partner, Israel, and with others. But the Palestinians can’t get there alone.
Today, when the Sunni Arab states look to Israel as a partner against Iran and make use of Israeli defense capabilities (as well as water and solar technologies) under the table, the time has come for them to step up and make the deal public and irrevocable. Finish the 1948 war. Accept the legitimate and permanent presence of the State of Israel, even if it is 70 years late. Provide support for the Palestinians to build a new government committed to the economic and social health of its people.
That is a plan for peace.
Shoshana Bryen is a specialist in U.S. defense policy and Middle East affairs.