Give peace (plan) a chance

This is the moment when Israelis should act maturely and restrainedly while Palestinians should arise and act courageously and constructively.

U.S. President Donald Trump gestures as he welcomes Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 27, 2020. (photo credit: KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS)
U.S. President Donald Trump gestures as he welcomes Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 27, 2020.
The Trump-Kushner “Deal of the Century” has evoked a lot of pushback. The Arab League unanimously rejected the plan as not meeting “the minimum rights and aspirations of the Palestinian people.” On the Left, in America, there has been almost universal hostility. Apparently, the polarization is so great that anything Trump is for – the Left (and Democrats) automatically judge negatively. On the Right in Israel, there is serious opposition to the plan’s projection of a possible Palestinian state.
Yet – for Israelis and Palestinians – this is the best peace plan offered in more than half a century, mainly because it directs the essential dismantling of underlying conceptions that block any peace possibility. However, while the plan has been well received by the Israeli mainstream – which perceives it as favorable to Israel – it is urgent that the approach not be undermined by Israeli actions meant to score political points. Opportunistic annexations could torpedo a process that has the potential to yield a permanent peace.
Why is the plan good? It pushes the Palestinians to move off their present path of pursuing independence by undermining the State of Israel. The Palestinians have been ill-served by their allies and previous America administrations allowing them to live inside a bubble of victimhood. The world failed to openly repudiate Palestinians hopes to gain sovereignty while isolating and wearing down the Jewish state.
PA incitement to hate, support of terrorism, and refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state convinced the majority of Israelis (who supported the Oslo Accords and welcomed a path toward Palestinian sovereignty) that a settlement with the Palestinians will lead to a mortal threat to Israel’s heartland and its very existence. The result has been a decimation of the Israeli Left because those parties were blamed for legitimizing the Palestinians before they were ready to live in peace with Israel.
The required demilitarization of the Palestinian state and disarmament of the terrorist groups ends the tradeoff of Israeli security for Palestinian sovereignty. This makes it possible for Israel to live with a Palestinian state without risking its own existence.
The plan’s approval of Israel taking over 30% of the West Bank is not a one-sided tilt to Israel. It extends the Bush administration’s commitment that Israel can keep the settlement blocs. The gain is that the plan prods the Palestinians to make peace as soon as possible. Up to now the Palestinians were rewarded for refusing to compromise. Ehud Barak’s never-responded-to offer (2000) of 92% of the West Bank (with land swaps) plus Arab custodianship of the Temple Mount was more generous than earlier Israeli offers. Yet it was topped by Ehud Olmert’s offer (2008) of 96%+ of the West Bank (with land swaps) and Palestinian sovereignty over the Temple Mount.
The current plan makes clear to the Palestinians that rejectionism costs them and that future offers will be less generous. For over a century the world community failed to tell the Arabs to stop their unyielding opposition to a Jewish state which led to never-ending war and less positive outcomes for the Arabs in the Holy Land. That silence sustained the Arab and the Palestinian self-defeating policy of never recognizing Israel’s existence.
The plan promises a $50 billion investment package which incentivizes Palestinians to build a viable economy and functioning civil society. Hardly anything else could do more to improve Palestinians lives – and to convince the Israelis that the Palestinians mean to live in peace with them. This reverses the past when the UN created a special refugee status for the Palestinians which kept alive their fantasies of returning and undermining the Jewish state. Billions of dollars in foreign aid – the highest per capita in the world – were wasted and siphoned off in corruption and payments to terrorism.
Sixty years of Palestinian rejectionism and failure to take the path of non-violent resistance forfeited the trust of the Israeli majority. Only a decisive turn toward peace and society-building by the Palestinians can win back the trust. Thus this plan gives Palestinians an achievable path to sovereignty – a path which would be in their hands. Otherwise, the Israeli public will never accept the proposed Palestine as anything less than a direct danger to the livability of life in Israel.
The plan also undercuts the single greatest obstacle to peace on the Israeli side. Palestinian recalcitrance and the expansion of the settlements has stimulated a growing minority on the Right that wants to absorb the Palestinians with the West Bank and make one (Jewish) state, a Greater Israel.
The Obama administration and many on the Left warned that this step would jeopardize a Jewish majority and could undermine the democratic nature of the Jewish state. But since past administrations failed to assure Israelis on security, the average Israeli felt: Better take that risk rather than risk life being undermined by a terrorist state right in Israel’s heart.
Unfortunately, the minority has departed from the security issue altogether. It is convinced that it can fulfill biblical and historical dreams while defeating the Palestinians by outbreeding them. This plan forces them to admit that even Israel’s best – even one-sided – allies, will not support such a squelching of Palestinian hopes.
This proposal will restore leadership in policy formation to Israelis focused on security. They can be persuaded to make room for a Palestine that is committed to peaceful coexistence and trustworthy to keep the peace. This also gives the Palestinians the chance to negotiate a better deal and, by better behavior, win over the Israeli public.
Unfortunately, the plan will be undermined unless Israeli political leadership stops playing political games for short-term political advantage. The extreme Right is pushing for immediate annexation to foreclose any possible Palestinian state. Netanyahu wanted immediate annexation, hoping to turn the deal into a one sided offer to Israel, made to shift the voters and win a victory for his side. Wisely Netanyahu has stopped - but is promising the right to act unilaterally after the election.
Such a move would only make a future Democratic Administration more likely to reverse support for annexation. Similarly, there is still a chance that Arab nations will silently support the process proposed in this plan. Immediate annexation of the West Bank would end that possibility.
This plan can enable a new Palestinian leadership to rise – if not this year, then in years to come – to take up this opportunity. This is more likely to happen if a new Israeli leader, like Benny Gantz, speaks to the Palestinians directly, saying he wants to negotiate seriously. He should promise to work hard to make a constructive Palestinian economic and political path succeed.
A decisive turn to peaceful coexistence while ending denials of Jewish roots in the Holy Land and stopping delegitimation of a Jewish state can win them a better life and a national state. However, any possible new Palestinian leadership will be instantly decapitated by an opportunistic, immediate annexation.
This is the moment when Israelis should act maturely and restrainedly while Palestinians should arise and act courageously and constructively. All I am saying is, together, give peace (plan) a chance.
The writer is president of the J.J. Greenberg Institute for the Advancement of Jewish Life.