It’s time for the Palestinians to call Israel’s bluff on peace

Palestinians should call Israel’s bluff and play smart politics for a change.

Palestinians burn pictures depicting U.S. President Donald Trump, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan and Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during a protest against the United Arab Emirates' deal with Israel to normalise relations, in Ramallah in the West Bank August 15 (photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMAD TOROKMAN)
Palestinians burn pictures depicting U.S. President Donald Trump, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan and Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during a protest against the United Arab Emirates' deal with Israel to normalise relations, in Ramallah in the West Bank August 15
(photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMAD TOROKMAN)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to Israeli analysts, never intended to annex any parts of the West Bank. He did not have a map. There was probably no US-Israeli mapping committee. And July 1st was an imaginary “annexation day.” Netanyahu made promises to settlers, hyped Israelis and Palestinians (and the world) about annexation, and was condemned internationally for pledging to annex the West Bank and effectively ditch the principle of a two-state solution.
In return for his theatrical performance or, let us assume his serious pledges, he secured a treasured prize by luring the United Arab Emirates into establishing diplomatic ties with Israel in return for a commitment not to annex any part of the West Bank. The Palestinian reaction to the news of a UAE-Israeli diplomatic ties was predictable and, frankly, pathetic. Palestinians should stop whining about any rapprochement between Israel and any other country.
More importantly, once and for all, Palestinians should call Israel’s bluff and play smart politics for a change.
The Palestinian leadership should call Trump today and request a summit meeting at the White House between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Netanyahu. The aim of the summit should be to negotiate an Israel-Palestine peace agreement based on a two-state solution, within a 30-day period while leaving nothing unresolved so as not to repeat the mistakes of the Oslo Accords.
In the meantime, the Palestinians would ask Arab countries not to proceed with any new peace agreements with Israel until such time that an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal is completed. That would not be an unrealistic request by the Palestinians, especially now that there is talk that Bahrain and Oman might follow the UAE’s footsteps and establish diplomatic relations with Israel.
That could hurt Israel deeply. It would put Israel and its intentions on the spot. Either Israel signs an acceptable peace agreement with the Palestinians within a specified period of time, or Israel’s inroad into peacemaking with the Arab world would cease.
Another urgent matter is, of course, the US presidential elections. Trump would want to announce a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine prior to the US presidential elections on November 5.
If Israel’s intentions are upright and if it is willing to meet the minimal, acceptable and legitimate demands of the Palestinian people, then an agreement could be reached within weeks in Washington. While Trump would presumably have leverage over Israel, the Arab and European countries would have leverage over the Palestinians to squeeze both sides to capture this unique opportunity and “nudge hard” to reach a peace agreement.
Trump’s proposed peace plan is not written in stone, as we have already seen with the annexation scheme of the plan.
For the Palestinians and, in my personal view, the elements of a realistic peace deal would include:
• All of the West Bank minus the large settlements adjacent to Israel.
• In return for the land given up to Israel, the Palestinians would receive Israeli territory of equal size and strategic value.
• East Jerusalem would be recognized as the capital of Palestine.
• Isolated and what the Israelis term as “illegal outposts or settlements” would be evacuated.
• There would be an extraterritorial land route between Gaza and the West Bank, monitored by international security forces, if needed.
• Palestinian refugees would have the right of return to the new Palestinian state. Palestinians need to stop daydreaming about going back to Haifa and Jaffa. That will not happen now or ever. Let us not delude ourselves.
• Palestinian refugees will be properly compensated for properties and lands they lost through an international fund funded by Israel, the United States and other countries. Any such fund, no matter its size, would be less costly than another Arab-Israeli war.
• The holy places of Jerusalem would remain under Jordanian custodianship, and people of all religions will have unconstrained access to those holy places.
The Holy Grail for Israel is security. Palestinians of all political colors recognize that security issues are of paramount significance for Israel. The Gaza Strip presents a big challenge both for Israel and the Palestinian Authority, but a committee would be set up to incorporate Gaza into the newly established Palestinian state. It will not be easy, but Hamas and Islamic Jihad will be presented with options either to abide by the agreements signed by the PLO/PA or they will have to face very unpleasant consequences.
As far as security in the West Bank, years of Israeli-PA security cooperation have proven that security coordination has worked and can continue to work almost impeccably between the two sides. With regard to Palestine’s border with Jordan, continued Palestinian-Jordanian and Israeli security cooperation will safeguard the security of the border between Palestine and Jordan. Besides, in the age of missiles, drones, and even helium balloons, land no longer provides security. It is peace that will ensure security.
The smartest act that the Palestinians can do right now is to take matters into their own hands.  Instead of watching one Arab country follow the other in establishing ties with Israel, they should find out Israel's true intentions with regard to an honorable peace.  In the meantime, they should ask the Arabs to "delay" their recognition of Israel while they negotiate an expedited and acceptable peace agreement.
If they succeed, then everyone wins. If they fail, then they expose Netanyahu for what he is: a con artist.

The writer taught at Harvard University’s Middle East Institute. He was the editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem-based al-Fajr newspaper and served as a member of the Palestinian delegation to the multilateral peace talks on arms control and regional security. He is also the featured columnist of arabamerica.com