The Trump administration invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and political rival Benny Gantz on Jan. 28 to Washington, D.C., to release details about the long-awaited Trump peace plan.
The 180-page plan was declared dead on arrival by most pundits and papers, as its authors had not consulted the Palestinian Authority, which subsequently severed diplomatic ties with both the United States and Israel. The deal, however, was merely a symptom of a broader problem: an uncooperative diplomatic partner.
The plan, which diverges greatly from its predecessors, makes concessions on both sides but drastically favors Israel relative to past proposals.
The Camp David Summit in 2000 marked an opportunity for a Democratic administration to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians. President Bill Clinton met with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and P.A. head Yasser Arafat. Prior to negotiations, Israel had offered withdrawal from 66 percent of the West Bank, which the P.A. rejected.
After walking away from the negotiation table, they were offered 91 percent of the West Bank at Camp David. Arafat rejected the offer.
“I killed myself to give the Palestinians a state,” Clinton later remarked. “I had a deal they turned down that would have given them all of Gaza, 96 to 97 percent of the West Bank, compensating land in Israel, you name it.”
The P.A. leaders are smarter than most give them credit for, claiming absolute victimhood and acknowledging no responsibility. They know how to play the game very well. They walk away from negotiation after negotiation and get better offers time and time again. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (who was assassinated by right-wing extremists for offering Palestinian leadership too many concessions) famously said that nothing is agreed upon until everything is agreed on.
The P.A. plays a game of incrementalism, pocketing gains from one round of negotiations, leaving, and resuming the next round from those concessions as a starting point. They perfected the “salami tactic,” slicing off and pocketing concessions until Israel has no wiggle room left and the word negotiation has completely lost its meaning.
From December 2006 to September 2008, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas 36 times. In an attempt at peace, Olmert offered a deal that was scorned by the Israeli right.
The proposal included Israeli withdrawal from 93 percent of the West Bank, with Israeli ceding a 5.5 percent land swap for a future Palestinian state in the Negev, adjacent to the Gaza Strip. Abbas rejected the deal, stating, “The Palestinian side will only accept a Palestinian state with territorial continuity, with holy Jerusalem as its capital, without settlements, and on the June 4, 1967 boundaries.”
Translation: we are not willing to partake in any peace deal that gives Israel defensible borders.
These deals offered to provide monetary reparations in lieu of the “right of return” (a non-starter for maintaining a Jewish state), and a fixed term of Israeli security involvement on the path to full Palestinian statehood. Proposal after proposal, Israeli negotiators have become all too accustomed to the sound of slamming doors.
Trump, a businessman by trade, acknowledged the broader trend. The Palestinian leadership had a plan: reject proposals, respond with terrorist acts (such as the second intifada) and let optics do the rest. Israel, in defending itself, had to construct barriers along the West Bank, which has contributed to the seditious claims that it’s an apartheid state. Military responses are deemed “disproportionate” as Palestinian civilians are put in danger for the sake of good PR at Israel’s expense.
Clinton commented that “[They are] really smart. When they decide to rocket Israel, they insulate themselves in the hospitals, in the schools, in the highly populous areas. They try to put the Israelis in a position of either not defending themselves or killing innocents. They’re good at it. They’re smart. They’ve been doing this a long time.”
This is from a Democratic president who has been inside of, and orchestrated, peace talks between the two sides.
Trump’s plan is structured like most business plans are: accept (or negotiate) now, or get worse terms later. His aides on the matter, led by son-in-law Jared Kushner, have finally acknowledged that the Palestinians don’t want a reasonable peace, and they don’t want to acknowledge a state for the Jewish people. Spades are finally being called what they are and that is a major component of the new U.S. plan.
In 1992, Clinton’s campaign against incumbent George H.W. Bush coined the phrase, “It’s the economy, stupid!” It was a strategic response to the president’s pettifogging of certain issues. Bush’s approval was near 90 percent after the ground war in Kuwait broke out, and political analysts viewed a second term as a foregone conclusion. Bush maintained conversations about insignificant issues rather than focusing on the lackluster American economy (bound for recession), an issue most Americans would base their vote on.
Anti-Israel detractors constantly dig in their heels on the minutiae of this issue—which there are an abundance of—while neglecting major ideas like what led to the establishment of a Jewish state and why Israel controls land in the West Bank in the first place.
Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain and the UAE have publicly stated appreciation for the U.S. effort toward achieving peace in the region. As Israel provides ongoing support against Iran, countries that would once have condemned U.S. involvement in the peace process now welcome it. Times are changing.
And if the Trump plan does nothing else, it serves as a reminder. A reminder that victimhood and Palestinian rejectionism will only thwart the prospect of peace, not bring it any closer.
Noah Blaff is a student at the Smith School of Business at Queen’s University, Canada. He is an active Hasbara fellow and his writings have appeared in “The Queen’s Journal” and “The Queen’s Business Review.” He will be graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in May 2020.