DURNS: The Problem With The Trump Administration’s Israeli-Palestinian Peace Plan

Sean Durns Washington, D.C.-based foreign affairs analyst
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There’s a problem with the Trump administration’s forthcoming Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, and it’s not the plan itself. The problem is that Palestinians are certain to reject the plan irrespective of its terms. We know this because history tells us so. As Lord Byron once said, “The best prophet of the future is the past.”

On Jan. 23, 2020, it was reported that the Trump administration would soon release its long-awaited plan for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. That plan, the Washington Post reported, was finished in 2019 but “kept under wraps amid political turmoil in Israel.” The plan was finally unveiled on Jan. 28, 2020, but it hardly matters since the Palestinian Authority (PA), which rules the West Bank, announced long ago that it would oppose the plan.

Indeed, the PA initiated a public campaign against the so-called “deal of the century” back in 2018 — before its terms were fully formulated, much less public.

As the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA) noted in a July 31, 2018 op-ed, the PA launched a “national campaign to thwart the Deal of the Century” nearly two years ago. Officials from Fatah, the movement that dominates the PA, denounced the unreleased plan as the “American crime of our era.” Numerous top Fatah operatives, including its deputy chair Mahmoud al-Aloul, have proclaimed a refusal to accept any proposal put forward by the U.S. despite the fact that the U.S. is a chief benefactor of the PA and was, in large measure, responsible for its creation.

Aloul is the possible successor to current Authority president and Fatah head Mahmoud Abbas, and his rejection of a possible peace plan is perfectly in keeping with history.

In 1937, Palestinian Arab leaders in British-ruled Mandate Palestine were offered a prototype of a “two-state solution” by the British. The plan, based in part on recommendations from the Peel Report, would have given Palestinian Arabs something that they never had before — self rule. However, since it allowed for a measure of self-determination for the Jewish people in their ancestral homeland, it was opposed by Amin al-Husseini, the leading Palestinian ruler and chief religious cleric.

After World War II, the U.N. Partition Plan called to divide the Mandate into two states, one Jewish and the other Arab. But this too was rejected by Palestinian leaders, who joined five Arab nations in declaring war on the newly recreated nation of Israel. As a result of that war, the nation of Transjordan was left in control of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), and Egypt held a firm grip on the Gaza Strip. Neither Arab country attempted to create an independent Palestinian state from this land during that time nor did the international community push for them to do so.

During its successful defense in the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel seized these lands. Though Israel again made attempts to reach peace with the Arab nations, these were refused outright at the 1967 Arab League Summit.

The late 1970s witnessed a thaw as Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat, hoping to move from the Soviet camp to the West, made peace with Israel. However, there was no such sentiment from Palestinian leaders like Yasser Arafat, founder of the Fatah movement and head of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Arafat refused to make peace, and the PLO continued to carry out terrorist attacks.

The fall of the PLO’s chief sponsor, the Soviet Union, and dwindling Arab financial support due to Arafat’s support for Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait left the PLO in a bind. At the time, its leaders were residing in Tunis and losing influence. The Oslo Peace Process, however, permitted Arafat and his entourage to return and to receive international aid. Oslo created the PA and allowed for limited self-rule.

In exchange, Palestinian leaders promised to cease terrorist attacks, refrain from inciting anti-Jewish violence and resolve outstanding issues in negotiations. Yet, when it came time to make a final deal, Arafat refused. Under his rule, the PA rejected, while Israel accepted, offers for a two-state solution made by the Clinton Administration in 2000 at Camp David and 2001 in Taba. Similarly, the PA rejected, without counteroffer, a 2008 Israeli offer that would have given Palestinians a state with its capital in eastern Jerusalem and more than 90% of the West Bank with land swaps for remaining territory.

Some commentators have asserted that the Trump administration’s proposal is dead on arrival due to the December 2017 decision to implement the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act, which recognized the city as Israel’s capital. But this too is false.

The PA also rejected Obama administration attempts to restart negotiations, including proposals in 2014 and 2016 that were based on the 2008 offer. Indeed, a 2009-2010 settlement freeze, initiated by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu under U.S. pressure, failed to bring Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas, to the table. In an underreported and open violation of Oslo’s terms, the PA’s then-foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki said in a Feb. 15, 2016 press conference in Tokyo, “We will never go back and sit again in a direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.”

The British, the U.N., the U.S. and Israel have made numerous offers for a Palestinian state. Yet Palestinian leaders rejected them all since statehood meant living in peace with and open recognition of the Jewish state. The problem the Trump administration faces isn’t the plan. The problem is Palestinian rejectionism.

The writer is a Senior Research Analyst for the Washington D.C. office of CAMERA, the 65,000-member Boston-based Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis