Who will lead during the ‘deal of the century’?

In this younger generation of Arabs, there may be hope – not, perhaps, for a grand bargain, but for a series of incremental compromises.

April 7, 2019 22:28
4 minute read.
US PRESIDENT Donald Trump shakes hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

US PRESIDENT Donald Trump shakes hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as they pose in the Rose Garden at the White House this week. (photo credit: REUTERS/LEAH MILLIS)

One of the three big questions in Israeli politics is: Who will lead Israel when US President Donald Trump unveils the “deal of the century” that is supposed to bring the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to an end?

The second big question in Israeli politics: Do voters believe a peace plan with the Arabs is still possible or desirable? After the failed Oslo Accords of the 1990s, many Israelis gradually came to realize that there is no magic “grand bargain” possible with the current leadership.

So far, things look good for Netanyahu. In the past few weeks, he somehow managed to get the presidents of Russia and the United States to support Israel and, indirectly, his personal reelection efforts.

Israeli voters have also reflected on their own experiences with their Arab neighbors. In their real lives, they have found many Arabs to be realistic people like themselves – people who want safe and quiet streets; schools that educate and inspire their children; police who are allies of order, not tools of oppression; jobs where they could grow more productive and therefore more prosperous. And the Arabs, without specifically saying so, in practice want to live in a country in which different faiths could live side by side with cordiality, respect, tolerance and, maybe, unity.

In this younger generation of Arabs, there may be hope – not, perhaps, for a grand bargain, but for a series of incremental compromises.

The younger Arab generation, surveys show, has a fundamentally different perspective from that of its elders. More than 60% of Arabs are too young to remember the 1967 and 1973 wars with Israel. Many others regard them as ancient history. As for 1948, that is even dimmer in memory. They don’t want to refight the wars of the past century or re-litigate the old grudges. Their concerns are much closer to the kitchen table than to the ideologue’s drawing board. Young Arabs want well-paying jobs that allow them to marry and start a family. They want good schools for their children and a safe, affordable place for them to sleep at night. They claim dignity and gratitude, not contempt.

As Jared Kushner said: “The first principle is to have freedom. We want people to be able to have the freedom of opportunity, the freedom of religion, the freedom of worship, regardless of your faith. We want all people to have dignity and to respect each other. We want people to be able to better their lives and not allow their grandfather’s conflict to hijack their children’s future. And the final one is security.”

The details of the Trump plan remain secret. This fact itself is telling and instructive. It suggests that Trump and his son-in-law and special envoy, Kushner, have developed the plan without the aid of America’s career diplomats.

The lack of leaks also tells us that Palestinian leaders, who are boycotting many channels of dialogue with the Trump administration, are likely not involved in drafting it. If they were, they, too, would be leaking selected bits to their many allies in the region. Since there are no leaks from the Palestinians, they have been given nothing to leak.

If the aged Palestinian leadership is not directly involved, it means that Trump has surmised that it is better to talk to their paymasters. The Gulf Arabs, who desperately want America’s help against the burgeoning power of Iran, may be more inclined to make a deal regarding the Palestinians than the Palestinians themselves, some of whom receive money from Iran’s mullahs.

The Palestinian Authority has taken itself out of the dialogue. Decades of negotiation with it have produced little fruit. Moreover, it is currently unable to control the many armed militias, including Hamas, which has conquered the Gaza Strip. It is unable to conduct free and fair multiparty elections. Nor has it been able to root out the corruption that plagues its public services, which are too often below international standards.

Now the Palestinians face a bigger challenge. If they continue their intransigence and try to reject the plan, do they risk becoming irrelevant to their own people?

The job of the next prime minister, be it Netanyahu or not, will be to remind Israelis about their own day-to-day experiences with their Arab neighbors, to remind them that a reasonable and practical younger generation exists. And that, therefore, the possibility of peace is real and really attainable, based on shared values and common needs (jobs, homes, schools, hospitals).

Whether the Trump plan succeeds or not, or Netanyahu survives or not, the real future of the Jewish state lies in building an alliance with the sensible Arab middle class, which wants order, peace and prosperity as much as Israelis do.

And that is the final big question in Israeli politics today: What world do you want to make for your children and the children of your Arab neighbors?

The writer is a Moroccan publisher. He is on the board of directors for the Atlantic Council, an international counselor of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and a member of the advisory board of the Center for the National Interest in Washington.

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