As far as Americans who despise President Donald Trump go, as well as for many Jews and Israelis who feel the same way about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the ceremony unveiling a new U.S. peace plan for the Middle East was a sham.
With the Palestinians refusing to even talk to the administration—let alone negotiate with Israel about implementing the plan’s terms—chances of the “deal of the century” solving the conflict remain exactly zero. Trump’s opponents see his determination to recognize Israeli sovereignty over all of Jerusalem, as well as the green light his plan gives to annexation of West Bank settlements, as an outrage. And they dismiss his offer of statehood to the Palestinians—provided that they recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state and cease support for terrorism—as meaningless.
In essence, all those denouncing Trump’s terms are advising the Palestinians to stick to their refusal to talk until a new American president takes office.
Whatever you think about Trump, it is the worst possible advice anyone could give to the Palestinians.
Unfortunately, this is exactly what many Democrats are doing. The same is true of allegedly “pro-peace” Jewish groups like J Street. Rather than encouraging the Palestinians to start negotiating, the “experts” about the Mideast are applauding their decision to reject Trump’s proposal out of hand. Sadly, they are once again serving as enablers for a Palestinian Arab leadership that has, over the course of the last century, failed their people miserably as they pursued a futile war against Zionism.
Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas stopped talking to the Americans after Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017 and then continued to ignore them as the peace plan was drafted. He refused an invitation to the White House and even a phone call from the president, whom he denounced as a “dog” and a “son of a dog.” But the key to understanding his stance was his statement that if he were to negotiate on these terms, he would be seen as “a traitor” to the Palestinian people.
The political culture that produced Abbas is one in which any recognition of Israel’s legitimacy is not merely a form of treason, but a complete betrayal of Palestinian identity. That’s why Abbas was meeting with representatives of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, rather than with Trump and Netanyahu at the White House.
Abbas may think that it’s outrageous that he’s being asked to accept less than what George W. Bush and Ehud Olmert offered him in 2008, or what Bill Clinton and Ehud Barak offered his predecessor Yasser Arafat in 2000 and 2001. But what Trump’s critics forget is that both Abbas and Arafat rejected those offers of Palestinian statehood in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem. Independence wasn’t enough for the Palestinians then. And it’s not enough now—and not because the amount of territory they’re being offered is slightly less than what was on the table previously. Abbas is saying “no” to Trump for the same reason that the Palestinians have been saying “no” to every compromise that has been mooted to solve the conflict since the 1930s. No Palestinian leader has the courage to make peace with Israel, no matter where its borders are drawn, because they remain locked into a war that they have already lost.
Palestinians are right to say that Trump is asking them to surrender. But what they must surrender is their dreams of eliminating Israel. The problem with the plans put forward by Trump’s predecessors was not that they weren’t generous enough to the Palestinians, but that they refused, as Trump has done, to force them to realize that time wasn’t on their side.
Israel tried in the 1993 Oslo Accords to trade “land for peace,” but got terror instead. The same was true of Ariel Sharon’s withdrawal of every Israeli soldier, settler and settlement from Gaza in August of 2005. The overwhelming majority of Israelis have learned from these failures, and that is why even the Blue and White Party that leads the opposition to Netanyahu largely agrees with him about the need to hold onto security control of the West Bank and to annex portions of it since there is no Palestinian peace partner in sight.
Had the Palestinians accepted Clinton and Barak’s offer of peace in 2000, many of the settlements that Trump is allowing Israel to annex would no longer exist. But after two decades of violence and rejectionism, it isn’t reasonable to expect Israelis to risk their national security and defense in the same manner they might have done in the past. No American president can make Israel give the Palestinians what they want because their goal isn’t a demilitarized state that will live in peace alongside a Jewish state, coupled with the Gaza Strip no longer ruled by Hamas terrorists. The fact that Abbas even cited J Street as a group opposing Trump’s plan after he met with terrorists illustrates how utterly counterproductive that group’s efforts are to the cause of peace.
With much of the Arab world no longer interested in backing their endless war against Israel, the Palestinians need to understand that Trump’s team of former real estate executives turned diplomats is right to think of them as equivalent to a property that is rapidly depreciating in value.
What Trump is offering the Palestinians is the best chance they’re going to get to achieve a measure of independence, and eventually even prosperity. Anyone who advises them differently—whether out of disdain for Trump, or because they are fixated on forcing Israel to retreat to the 1967 lines and evicting hundreds of thousands of Israelis from their homes—is merely encouraging them to make the same mistake Palestinians have made every other time they had a chance to end the conflict and move on with their lives. All J Street and the Democrats are giving them is the permission to go on dooming their people to fight an endless war they’ve already lost.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.