On November 11, the New York Times put out a report saying that the Trump team was now starting to put together a Middle East “peace plan.”
The immediate gut response to this in many quarters was simply to wonder what the team could be thinking.
This was immediately followed by, “Here we go again!” (Accompanied by a groan)
With the way Abbas and company have been behaving – ostensibly partnering with Hamas, refusing to stop paying terrorists in Israeli prisons, etc. etc. – how could this team imagine “peace” was on the horizon?
Nonetheless, journalist Peter Baker tells us the team, having spent months learning about the situation, is now developing a “concrete blueprint” that will offer “tangible steps” for ending the stalemate.
The team, with Trump: Jared Kushner, son-in-law and advisor; Jason Greenblatt, key negotiator; Dina H. Powell, a deputy national security adviser and an Egyptian-born Coptic Christian; and David M. Friedman, the ambassador to Israel.
The first thing to remember here is that this is the New York Times, with its own agenda.
Thus does Baker cite “some analysts” who think the first step might be “confidence building gestures,” which for Israel might include: “limiting settlement construction to current blocs without taking new land, recommitting to a two-state solution and re-designating a small part of the West Bank to give Palestinians more control.” This means in Area C. Re-designating?? As if some part of Judea and Samaria in this area had previously been designated for Palestinian Arabs? Watch that slippery language.
The response to this, in those same quarters, was more visceral:
Of course, this article was cited widely. And citations often included the thought that Trump was going to go with that “two state solution” after all. That is suggested in the list of possible “confidence building” measures.
But when you search the original article, it says,
“Although Mr. Trump has not committed to a Palestinian state, analysts said they anticipated that the plan will have to be built around the so-called two-state solution that has been the core of peacemaking efforts for years.” (Emphasis added)
Here we go again, with unidentified “analysts” who have a particular bias.
Two days after the Times piece appeared, there was a Jerusalem Post article on this subject that cited the Times. But it also cited Jason Greenblatt, who had spoken directly to the Post.
And what he said was that:
“We are not going to put an artificial timeline on the development or presentation of any specific ideas and will also never impose a deal. Our goal is to facilitate, not dictate, a lasting peace agreement to improve the lives of Israelis and Palestinians and security across the region.” (Emphasis added)
This sounds a tad more reasonable. And no, I do not think it is time for the panic button. It is obvious that the Trump administration will not squeeze us or threaten us, in the fashion of Obama.
That there is some pressure from the US on Netanyahu, whether overt or implied, remains the case, however. This is unsettling. Time and again, our prime minister has spoken about moving ahead with one development project or another, only to pull back when it seems there is American displeasure. Sometimes it is said openly, that he won’t move ahead without consulting with the Americans.
It’s the old pattern, even if in somewhat modified form: The Palestinian Arabs spit in the faces of the Americans, and yet we run to show how cooperative we are, weakening our sovereignty, our right to make decisions for ourselves, in the process. (Yes, I know: it does not have to be this way, but this is how Netanyahu chooses to play it.)
There is something perverse about this whole process, actually, even as Greenblatt may be stepping more judiciously:
Greenblatt and Kushner time and again consulted here in Jerusalem, and then moved on to consult in Ramallah, as if some balance had to be achieved, and as if there were some equity between the parties.
The PA is a terror-supporting entity that has demonstrated nothing positive. And yet, infuriatingly, its leaders are treated with gravitas.
There is a reason for this, of course. And it’s located in the larger Arab world.
The PLO was founded by the Arab League; its first chair, Ahmad Shukeiri, was Egyptian. Its purpose, plain and simple, was to squeeze and then eliminate Israel. It was not about attending to the rights or needs of a so-called Palestinian people. In fact, the evidence is clear on the face of it that the Arab states over the years have mistreated and disregarded those who call themselves Palestinian Arabs. They have been used by their fellow Arabs who don’t really give a hoot about that Palestinian state.
There are a great number of Arab states (currently the membership of the Arab League is 22). There is only one Israel. Over the decades then, we’ve been looking at geopolitical power that has nothing to do with fairness. The world of realpolitik is not about justice.
One US government after another has sought out the Arab world, whether for oil, or for alliances in power struggles. And the Arab world has let it be known that a Palestinian state was of utmost importance.
Over time this mindset took on a life of its own, as the Palestinian Arabs skillfully peddled their “narrative” and the story of their rights, which were being trampled at Israeli hands. And US governments have played their part, devotedly continuing to promote that “two state solution.”
Never mind that the PLO could have had a state several times over.
You see here Ehud Barak, as prime minister, who in 2000 made a shockingly generous offer to Arafat, which was turned down. Barak behaved so obsequiously towards Arafat it was stomach turning.
And then, Ehud Olmert, as prime minister, who eight years later made an even more outrageously generous offer to Abbas, which was turned down:
Yet, in spite of this history, we haven’t seen any US government simply say, Hey, these guys could have had their state if they really wanted it – we’re tired of this charade.
That is because logic has had nothing to do with it.
But now, matters are shifting in significant ways:
The Arab world is not a monolith politically, but divided ever more into Sunni-Shia, more moderate (relatively speaking) and radical.
The Sunni Arab world (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, etc.) despises and fears Iran. Not Israel, Iran. The leaders of these nations understand full well that Israel will not be taken down. That, in fact, Israel is a nation of growing strength and power.
Most importantly, Israel also despises Iran and is willing to stand up to the mullahs. Israel has superior intelligence, which can be shared, superior weaponry, and determined leadership.
Suddenly, the importance of a Palestinian state begins to pale in comparison.
I’ve been writing for some time about Netanyahu’s statements regarding covert relationships of a new sort with the Arab world.
Saudi Arabia lies at the heart of this shift in the Arab world. Saudi Arabia itself is undergoing internal reforms and upheaval, with a move towards a more modern or moderate stance, led by the young crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.
The prince established and heads an anti-corruption commission and has had several high up in the government arrested. He is also pumping for a more moderate form of Islam, pushing back the radical Wahhabism.
Fox News suggests that what he is doing is advancing a revolution in Saudi Arabia from above.
If the prince succeeds, we will see a startling new Saudi Arabia.
Trump has already tweeted his approval of what is going on.
If there is to be anything truly different about Trump’s “plan,” it will be in this context. Much has been suggested in this regard – the goal of peace between Israel and parts of the Arab world, not with the PA specifically.
Already something that would have once been impossible has happened:
Israel and Saudi Arabia have joined in co-sponsoring a resolution, along with other nations, against the Assad regime in Syria, for the murder of innocent people, at a meeting of a human rights committee at the UN General Assembly.
Imagine: Israel, joining with the Saudis (who are Arab) in public condemnation of Syrians (who are Arab).
The Syrian delegate then said this action was evidence of a secret alliance between Saudi Arabia and Israel.
Last week, Abbas was summoned to Saudi Arabia, where he met with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed.
A great deal of speculation ensued as to what happened in Riyadh.
The most likely reason for the summons involves Saudi Arabia’s heightened stance against Iran, and Saudi concern that Hamas, which is supposed to be working towards “unity” with Abbas, is firmly in the arms of Iran. Hamas officials, in fact, recently visited Tehran.
Reportedly, Abbas was told to strengthen security cooperation with Israel, and to retain the sanctions on Gaza. This would anger Hamas and weaken the “reconciliation.
What we know right now is that the PA has announced renewed security cooperation with Israel. It is also saying it cannot successfully monitor the crossings because it does not have full security control in Gaza. (The Rafah gate into Egypt has not opened as promised.)
But the Egyptian Alaraby says that Abbas was told to accept Trump’s new plan or resign.
One thing is certain: Abbas will not accept a peace plan, although he, in typical style, may make gestures for Western consumption in that direction. He can never accept a final peace plan with Israel. Not if he values his life, which would literally be on the line. If his own people didn’t kill him, Hamas would.
Such a final plan would require official recognition of Israel’s existence and signing off on end of hostilities. But negotiations with Israel are supposed to have the goal of weakening it, not endorsing it. And the PA cannot forswear all further action against Israel: The Palestinian Arab leaders remain ideologically committed to the elimination of Israel. (Yes, not just Hamas: Fatah too.)
Could it be then, that, not so far down the road, Saudi Arabia and other Sunni nations might decide they are tired of Abbas (or his successor) and the eternal Palestinian Arab drama? That would generate a huge shift in the dynamics. (I am not suggesting that this might happen now.)
Last thoughts on why a Palestinian state will not happen:
First, because of changes here in Israel: What Barak and Olmert, respectively, offered the PA would never be offered today. Both the electorate and the leadership here have moved right; after the temporary insanity of the Oslo Accords, there has been growing disenchantment with the idea of a Palestinian state. Many other alternatives for solving the conflict are being advanced.
And then, because of increased radicalization in the larger Arab world: From a purely security perspective the Israeli government understands the dangers of ceding even part of Judaea and Samaria to Palestinian Arab sovereignty.
The king of Jordan is very shaky on his throne. If he goes down, the likelihood is that radical jihadists would take over. Should that happen, an Israeli presence would absolutely be required adjacent to Jordan. Were a Palestinian Arab state to be at that border, it would be taken over, and the jihadists would march into Judaea and Samaria, aiming to wreak horrendous damage to Israel.
Already Netanyahu has announced that the Jordan Valley (at the border with Jordan) must remain forever in Israel’s hands and that Jewish presence in the area is to be doubled.