Some Palestinians have long dreamed of creating, for the first time in history, their own nation-state. Others have long dreamed of exterminating Israel, the re-created nation-state of the Jewish people. The second dream has prevented realization of the first.
Last week, President Trump unveiled what is being called (e.g. by The New York Times) his “Mideast peace plan.” That’s imprecise. The wars being waged in the region — e.g. in Syria, Yemen and Sinai — will be unaffected by whatever transpires between Palestinians and Israelis.
The plan also is being called the “Deal of the Century.” But Jared Kushner, the plan’s lead author, says it should be viewed instead as the “Opportunity of the Century.” That recalls the observation of Israeli diplomat Abba Eban, half a century ago, that Palestinians “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”
Mr. Eban’s assumption: That Palestinians yearn for peace, prosperity and freedom but stumble before they reach the goal. Hamas, which took power in Gaza following Israel’s withdrawal from that territory in 2005, has a different priority. The Hamas Charter states plainly: “Israel will exist until Islam will obliterate it.”
It adds: “There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors.”
Mahmoud Abbas, chairman of the Palestinian Authority, the governing body on the West Bank, is more nationalist than Islamist, but he also rejected the plan: “We say 1,000 times: no, no and no.”
That, too, evokes history: In 1967, the Arab states surrounding Israel went to war. Egyptian President Gamel Abdel Nasser announced the aim: “Israel’s destruction.” Syria’s Hafiz al-Assad vowed “a battle of annihilation.” Iraq’s Abdul Rahman pledged “to wipe Israel off the map.”
Ahmed Shukairy of the then-3-year-old Palestine Liberation Organization, was asked what would happen to Israelis after the war. “I estimate that none of them will survive,” he replied.
Instead, in what became known as the Six-Day War, Israelis prevailed, taking Gaza from Egypt, and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, from Jordan.
They considered returning those territories in return for a peace treaty. But the Arab League promptly issued its “Three No’s”: “no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it.”
During the years Egypt occupied Gaza and Jordan occupied the West Bank — having conquered them in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war — neither considered establishing a Palestinian state.
After 1967, however, an idea arose: If Israelis were to give those lands to the Palestinians instead, could they receive peace in exchange?
Specific proposals for “two-state solutions” have been put on the table many times, including in 1948, 2000, 2001, 2008 and 2014. The most generous offers would have given Palestinians more than 90 percent of the West Bank, all of Gaza and a capital in Jerusalem.
Each time, the Palestinians — or more precisely those who make decisions for them — said no. Counteroffers were not forthcoming.
The Trump plan offers Palestinians a recognized nation-state with twice as much land as they currently occupy, a capital with a U.S. embassy in East Jerusalem, more than $50 billion in investments and other benefits. But, once again, an essential concession is demanded: Palestinian acceptance of the Jewish state.
For Hamas, as noted, that’s out of the question. Might Mr. Abbas — not now but in a few months — reconsider? He’s 84 and 16 years into a four-year elected term. I can’t imagine him ending his career shaking hands with an Israeli Jew on the White House lawn while Donald Trump, smiling ear to ear, looms over him.
That said, this plan is not without merit. Over recent years, the campaign to de-legitimize and demonize Israel, to hold it to a unique and discriminatory standard, has made progress.
Palestinian leaders were handed a great and unexpected victory in late 2016 when President Obama facilitated the passage of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334. It asserts that there is “no legal basis” for Israeli claims to the West Bank — for centuries known as Judea and Samaria — including even the 2,000-year-old Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, and the ancient Jewish holy sites of the Temple Mount.
If that were true, on what basis would Israelis have a right to anything — even a right to exist?
And if that’s the verdict not just of Israel’s enemies but even of the “international community,” including the United States, why should Palestinian leaders compromise? Why accept less than Israel’s surrender and a new Jewish exile — to be called, for public relations purposes, an “end to occupation?”
By putting forward a plan that licenses Israelis, should they face continued Palestinian rejectionism, to alter facts on the ground through annexations, President Trump has changed the dynamic — at least for now.
Perhaps the next Palestinian Authority leader will be pragmatic enough to recognize that in the contemporary Middle East, where Iran’s Shia imperialists pose an existential threat to their neighbors, it’s time to relinquish the dream of a Palestine that is Jew-free from the river to the sea.
That does not mean acquiescing to everything Mr. Trump and Mr. Kushner packed into their 180-page plan. It does mean resuming negotiations with Israelis, perhaps putting a counteroffer on the table and, for the first time ever, transitioning from “resisting” the Jewish state to building a Palestinian state — a real state, with functioning institutions, not a failed state kept afloat by the “donor community.”
To do that would give birth to something that for generations has existed only in our imaginations: A peace process.
• Clifford D. May is founder and president of the Foundation for Defense of (FDD) and a columnist for the Washington Times.