Can Mideast Plan Finally Bring Peace?

President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speak during a joint statement at the White House on Jan. 28 announcing the Trump administration’s peace plan proposal. 

 

In the midst of a tumultuous news cycle that included the divisive impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, the formal split of the United Kingdom from the European Union under Brexit and the spread of the deadly coronavirus from China, Trump unveiled his so-called  “Deal of the Century” to bring peace to Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Based on the Palestinian response, the deal isn’t likely to go very far.

At a White House gathering last week, Trump held separate meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Netanyahu’s chief rival, Benny Gantz, leader of the center-left Blue and White Party. Gantz immediately endorsed the plan, while Netanyahu, leader of the rightist Likud Party, said simply that he was at the conference to help “make history.”

If both Bibi and Benny endorse the plan, it could end the stalemate that has blocked formation of a new Israeli coalition and forced a third election, set for March 3. But its impact outside of Israel looks doubtful.

Under the proposed deal, which was coordinated by Jared Kushner, a presidential adviser and Trump’s son-in-law, Israel would retain Jerusalem as its undivided capital and site of the U.S. Embassy. The Palestinians would be granted the right to form an independent West Bank-Gaza state – in other words, the long-sought goal of a two-state solution with the Jewish State of Israel living side-by-side in peace and security with an Arab State of Palestine, which could set up its capital in the Al-Quds suburb of Jerusalem.

The Trump plan is very similar to the two-state solution put forward by former President Bill Clinton under terms of the Oslo Accords. That landmark led to the famous handshake between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, who shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Shimon Peres. But it did not lead to peace, which has remained elusive under subsequent leadership, here and in the Mideast.

Under the latest deal, the Palestinians could get the independent state that President Mahmoud Abbas claims to seek. But sadly, his first public response has been to harshly reject the plan. He told a news conference in Ramallah that Palestinians would resist the proposal using “peaceful, popular means” and harshly characterized its terms, saying that “after the nonsense that we heard today, we say a thousand no’s to the deal of the century.”

Abbas added: “We will not kneel, and we will not surrender.”

Abbas and other critics of the Kushner deal have complained that it is one-sided in Israel’s favor and that its proposed Palestinian State would be a South African-style “Bantustan”: a powerless and tiny statelet.  The plan indeed can be called a diplomatic victory for Israel, but Kushner left the door open for the Palestinians to walk through with meaningful counterproposals to gain support for a viable and sustainable state that could live side by side in peace and security, something the St. Louis Jewish Light has supported for decades.  

What happens now?  The late Israeli statesman Abba Eban famously said that the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Were Abbas’ combative words mere rhetoric that might be followed by meaningful statesmanship? Will he follow the example of several Arab states and grasp what might be his last best chance for a state of Palestine? Or will he continue to choose victimhood over statehood? 

As the world watches for the next development in other arenas – Brexit, the U.S. presidential campaign, the coronavirus and other international tensions – here’s hoping the Palestinians don’t let one more chance go by to take a real step toward lasting peace and prosperity for themselves and for Israel.