We're reading snippets, unconfirmed, of what is said to be the Trump Administration's proposal for an Israel-Palestinian peace accord.
Israelis can't bet less than 10 agorot on the deal, the equivalent of 3 US cents. One and five agorot coins are no longer in circulation. Americans, living with sillier traditions, and keeping pennies in play, can risk a cent.
Things aren't auspicious.
Israeli rightists have already expressed their opposition. They don't like the idea of giving up even small and isolated settlements in the West Bank, and oppose what is said about an international consortium that will govern the Old City of Jerusalem. With considerable justice, they say that Israel's management since 1967 has been fair to all communities, and infinitely better that what the Jordanians did 1948-67.
It's not yet clear what Israelis think about giving up the neighborhood of Abu Dis, on the outskirts of Jerusalem, for a Palestinian capital.
Israels like the idea that that Trump's plan includes Israeli sovereignty on the Jordan Valley and that it's borders will expand to include large established settlements, a requirement that the Palestinian state have only limited arms, and that they'll give up the right of refugees to return to Israel.
We hear that some Arab governments endorse Trump's ideas, others oppose, while others say that they'll support whatever the Palestinian's want.
Not only do Palestinians reject specific parts of the plan, but they are reiterating that the United States can have no role as a mediator in their problems. This began with the President's declaration that Jerusalem was Israel's capital, and again when he announced that the US Embassy would move from Tel Aviv on the country's 70th anniversary, in another two months.
Palestinians have also cursed Trump's appointment of an Orthodox Jew and supporter of settlement, David Friedman, as his Ambassador to Israel.
There are problems in the White House. One of the plan's apparent architects, First Son-in-Law Jared Kushner, spoiled his copybook on some other matter and lost his clearance to see the most secret materials. We also read that he was the subject of a meeting between representatives of Israel, China, Mexico, and the Gulf Emirates, who perceived that he was naive and uninformed about matters relevant to them, and discussed how to take advantage of his weaknesses.
Achieving a signed agreement between Israel and Palestine seems a sure bet for a Nobel. Trump would be in his glory. Yet more than 80 years of wrangling without results on several prominent occasions cautions against optimism.
Both a cynic and a realist might ask, "Why bother?"
Despite the several anomalies with respect to conventional international relations, The State of Israel and the not quite state of Palestine manage as well or better than other problematic neighbors. We can think about Burma and Thailand, Armenia and Azerbaijan, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Syria and Jordan, North and South Korea, how Brexit would affect relations between England Scotland and Northern Ireland, Spain Catalans and Basques, Northern Italy, Corsica and France, a few squabbles in Latin America and Africa, Mexico and the US.
Lots of Israelis and Palestinians see the Oslo Accords of 1993 as an abject failure, but they continue to provide benefits of a partial kind. Palestinians have substantial autonomy with respect to taxation, the management of social services, and internal security. Schools and hospitals function, perhaps no worse than elsewhere in the Third World. Israel controls its borders, made fuzzy by the existence of isolated settlements in the West Bank. However, they are open for the daily inflow of Palestinian workers, and other individuals with permits for family visits and specialized medical treatment. Buses bring substantial numbers of Muslims to Jerusalem for Friday prayers and other religious occasions. Palestinian and Israeli security forces cooperate on sensitive issues, despite occasional threats and even pronouncements by Palestinian leaders that they will, or have, cancelled those arrangements. The two regimes cooperate on trade, the transmission of imports from Israeli ports, the distribution of electricity and water, and the treatment of sewage. It's not as smooth as parallel activities within developed countries, and demands more attention from professionals on both sides.
Public administration rather than politics appears to be a more promising venue for continued, and improved cooperation. No doubt there is more to do with respect to Gaza than the West Bank. However, both Palestinian areas seem capable of administrative cooperation with Israel even while there is no sign of political accommodation.
Religion, nationalism, and extremists on both sides have so far foiled local and overseas politicians who express their commitment to a solution. The mythic histories propounded by Muslims, Jews, and Christians have stronger followings than professional diplomats accustomed to dealing with credible claims of what really happened and how to compromise conflicting aspirations.
God's Promise of all the Land competes for the crown of the most dangerous nonsense with Muhammad's flight to heaven on his horse from al Aqsa, and Muslim claims that there never was a significant Judaic presence before their arrival. Also in the mix is the Vatican's obsession with something other than Judaic control over the Old City, even while its representatives have chronic problems with Armenians, Greeks, and Copts over the management of the Holy Sepulchre.
Politicians and political activists seek credit for solving what professionals know can't be solved.
Not only have politicians (Israeli, Palestinians, and Americans) reached their limit, but they are threatening to make things worse by exciting the media and activists.
The most destructive Palestinian uprising came right after Prime Minister Ehud Barak, President Bill Clinton, and Yassir Arafat failed to agree on details.
And if all the above were not enough, those anxious for a peace conference might also consider the shakiness at the top of both Palestinian and Israeli politics. Neither Abbas nor Natanyahu may last until the convening of a conference, nor throughout whatever transpires.
Trump may not be in better shape, with ongoing inquiries about his campaign and business dealings, plus Tweets and other statements about tariffs threatening his future with top advisers who feel they--and he--have lost control.
We hear that the Chinese aspire to a role in the problems of Israel and Palestine.
Perhaps they can do better than the Americans..
To gain status, however, they may first have to demonstrate their talent by settling things with Taiwan and Tibet, as well as with their Muslims and Christians.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem