'Deal of the Century' - Does Israel know what it wants?

Israel never decided what it wanted, or where it wanted to go with the territories.

Construction near Efrat in the West Bank (photo credit: REUTERS)
Construction near Efrat in the West Bank
(photo credit: REUTERS)
“You’ve got to be careful if you don’t know where you’re going because you might not get there,” is one of the countless expressions – known as Yogi-isms – attributed to New York Yankees legend Yogi Berra.
And it is an expression that has summed up Israel’s diplomatic dilemma since it took possession of east Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria in the 1967 Six Day War.
The country never decided what it wanted, or – to put it in Berra’s words – where it wanted to go with the territories. Did it want to keep them, or cede them to Jordan or the Palestinians? Did it want to build settlements, or freeze them? Did it want to keep all the settlements, or some of them? Which ones?
The Palestinians knew what they wanted, or at least what they wanted at a minimum: a Palestinian state within the 1967 lines, with its capital in east Jerusalem. And they drummed that into the world’s consciousness.
But Israel? It always depended, mattered. It depended on what the Americans said, it mattered what the Europeans believed, and – of course – it depended on what the Palestinians and the Arab world would agree to.
But “depends” is not policy. You can’t achieve what you can’t define. And Israel never defined what it wanted – partly because it could not decide among itself. Forget what was attainable, what did it want? This is something that has largely remained a mystery.
Until, perhaps, this week.
Because on Tuesday, at long last, the US will put its “Deal of the Century” peace plan on the table, a plan that was hammered out over the last three years after countless meetings with Israeli officials who were asked, “What do you want? What does Israel need politically, socially and security-wise? What does it want as its boundaries, and what territories could it free up – without tearing the country apart – to the Palestinians should they ever reach a point where they are able to achieve statehood.”
The Trump administration took over from the Obama administration in 2017 with a novel approach toward Israel, and a sharp U-turn from the administration that came before. Rather than come to Israel and lecture it about what it needed to do to “save its soul” and remain a Jewish and democratic state, it came and asked what Israel felt it needed to remain a secure Jewish and democratic state. The peace team headed by Jared Kushner didn’t tell Israel what it needed; it asked it what it needed.
The team came here and said to their Israeli interlocutors, “Let’s break the mold and start from scratch. We don’t care what happened in the past; what do you need as the borders? What is the right outcome for you? Only understand that if you want a divorce from the Palestinians – which everyone seems to want – you have to offer something fair. You won’t get divorced without offering a fair settlement.”
Had the Palestinians not boycotted the US administration, they would have been asked similar questions. But Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, coddled for so long by the international community, decided he was not going to deal with an administration that he did not like, so those conversations never took place.
But the conversations with Israel did take place, in overdrive. And over the last few months they have not only been held with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government, but also with Blue and White leader Benny Gantz and his advisers.
Blue and White is laden heavy with security mavens, so they were consulted.
If as expected, both Gantz, during his meeting with Trump on Monday, and Netanyahu, during his meeting with the president the next day when the plan will be formally presented, agree to the plan, and both say that to accept it is in Israel’s best interest, then it will be the closest thing in years that reflects what Israel wants.
The details of the plan remain fuzzy, but what has leaked out so far is that Israel will annex the Jordan Valley and extend Israeli law to all the settlements in Judea and Samaria, and in return, agree to the eventual establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state that will have parts of Jerusalem outside the security barrier as its capital.
Over the next few days, starting with the Gantz-Trump meeting, then running through both Netanyahu-Trump meetings, the expected categorical Palestinian rejection, the Netanyahu immunity debate in the Knesset, the senate impeachment vote, and the endless chatter of the timing of the rollout of the plan, what is likely to get lost is the following: A plan is being put on the international community’s table that reflects – if both Netanyahu and Gantz give it their general blessing – what Israel, or at least a consequential majority of Israel, wants.
And that itself – regardless of everything else – is significant.