June 30, 2020
Palestinian Intransigence and the Illusion of Peace: Enough is Enough
On Jan. 28, 2020, the long-awaited Trump Administration’s “Deal of the Century,” officially titled “Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People,” was made public. The proposal aspires to reach the goal within its title after unfreezing and advancing negotiations between the State of Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The aim is to end a conflict as old as the State of Israel, and in some ways older. The plan entails Israel replacing the present military law with its system of civil law in the still non-sovereign territory that Israel captured from the Jordanians and has administered since June 1967. The change would directly affect the lives of the estimated nearly 400,000 Israeli citizens who reside in this area.
The plan allows Israel to execute this change only after July 1st and on no more than what constitutes 30 percent of the West Bank, or biblical Judea and Samaria. However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently acknowledged in a meeting with the elected heads of a number of Jewish towns from these areas that the initial application of Israeli civil law would apply to only about 3% of the territory that constitutes 132 Jewish communities recognized by the state. The remaining 27%, essentially the Jordan valley, would undergo the transition pending further negotiations with the Trump administration.
The plan also envisions a sovereign State of Palestine on the remaining 70 percent of this land, plus a small area of the western Negev Desert that is currently within the borders of Israel. But the Palestinians stand to gain not only land. The economic section of the plan that was rolled out at a multi-national workshop held in Manama, Bahrain, June 25-26, 2019, sets as an objective the establishment of a $50 billion international investment fund for 179 infrastructure and business projects within the nascent Palestinian state. However, a sovereign Palestine with a national capital just beyond the border of East Jerusalem would receive recognition by the United States and Israel only if after four years from its acceptance of the plan the Palestinian Authority succeeds in meeting a number of criteria.
These criteria prohibit the Palestinian Authority from engaging or supporting, even indirectly, any belligerent behavior towards the State of Israel and its citizens, be it military, legal, economic or through the use of propaganda or incitement. This state in the making would have to (1) officially recognize Israel as a Jewish state, (2) cease all territorial claims against Israel, (3) disarm the terrorist organizations Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the former of which governs Gaza, and who are both operative in territory under the control of the Palestinian Authority, (4) accept demilitarized status, i.e., it would not maintain any armed force other than a security apparatus necessary to uphold internal safety and order, and (5) cease the infamous Pay-to-Slay program of financial support provided to the families of deceased Palestinian terrorists and those serving time in Israeli prisons.
At the same Israel time has made it clear that (1) it will not commit to free all Palestinian terrorists serving time in Israeli prisons, (2) some 400,000 Israelis permanently residing in Jewish communities beyond the 1949 armistice line will not be ethnically cleansed, (3) a Palestinian capital will not be established within the eastern sector of Jerusalem, and (4) Palestinians will not be granted a so-called Right of Return in order to flood the State of Israel with one million or more property claimants.
What the plan does do is offer Palestinian leadership the opportunity to establish a viable and even robust independent nation alongside the State of Israel if it demonstrates the ability to conform to the normative behavior of a responsible and peaceful neighboring state. The inclusion of these criteria is the consequence of the Palestinian Authority’s long and infamous track record of engaging in incitement and terrorism.
Since 1937, when a country was first offered to the Arabs living in British Mandate Palestine, but rejected by the Grand Mufti Haj Amin el Husseini, 114 sovereign countries have been established worldwide. Many got off the mark with barely an economy of which to speak. None of these were offered, as are the Palestinians, a financial incentive worth $50 billion. Possessing this asset an emerging Palestinian state would find itself listed among the top 19 countries on the Allianz AG list of “Net Financial Assets Per Capita in 2019.” Coupled with this massive fund would be the considerable in-kind value of contributions by dozens of NGOs representing virtually all fields of human endeavor from numerous Western countries, including and especially Israel. Their objective would be to do everything possible to guarantee that this new country, now recognized across the globe, would be a success.
Yet, alas and again, came the quick and forthright denunciation of the plan by the Palestinians. In fact, it was rejected, in principle, before becoming public. And the plan was not all the Palestinians rejected. More recently, on the 18th of May, Palestinian Authority President and Palestinian Liberation Organization Chairman Mahmoud Abbas said that the Palestine Liberation Organization and State of Palestine are absolved from all agreements and understandings with the American and Israeli governments and from all obligations based on these understandings, including security ones.
Abbas has made similar declarations in the past. However, some observers believe this time he is prepared to stand behind his threat. In fact, since his announcement, the Palestinian Authority has taken steps to decrease cooperation with the State of Israel in the areas of health and security. Other fields in which the Palestinian people had benefited under the Oslo agreements and from which they now stand to lose include agriculture, water and sewage, telecommunications, fisheries, fuels, quarries, tourism, and transportation.
Those interested should be aware that Palestinian leaders refused an invitation to sit at the table alongside the Americans and the Israelis and play a role in shaping the terms of this peace proposal. Knowing all of this, an objective outsider might rationally pose the question: “Why?” Why would the leader of the Palestinian people declare all agreements with the State of Israel null and void and, even more incredibly, forfeit the opportunity after half a century to establish a viable Palestinian state bolstered by $50 billion and significant amounts of additional support from nations around the world?
A second question this outsider should ask is why would Mahmoud Abbas reject the opportunity to put an end to the violence, bloodshed and death that has so long surrounded Palestinian society? Why not offer millions of Palestinians the opportunity to share peace and prosperity with their Israeli counterparts? Instead, according to the Palestinian Media Watch website, the Palestinian Authority has called for “fighting this plan…regardless of the extent of the sacrifices and the quantity of the Martyrs’ blood…There can be no compromises of any kind.”
If the same third party were to read an impartial history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict he or she would learn the answer to these questions. The Muslim Arab world, and particularly the Arabs who in the last century immigrated to the westernmost territory under the British Mandate for Palestine, at no time accepted the notion of an independent nation state for the Jewish people in historic Israel. This idea is such anathema to Islamic belief and Palestinian ideology that over the last eighty-three years that both local and regional Arab leaders have rejected four opportunities for the creation of an independent state, each rejection the antecedent to more conflict:
1937 – The Arab leadership under the Grand Mufti Haj El Husseini turned down partitioning British Mandate Palestine between the Jews and Arabs.1947 – The Arab leadership under the Grand Mufti Haj El Husseini turned down partitioning British Mandate Palestine between the Jews and Arabs.2000 – The Palestinian Authority under the leadership of Chairman Yasser Arafat rejected the offer for a Palestinian state brokered by U.S. President Bill Clinton2008 – The Palestinian Authority under the leadership of President Mahmoud Abbas rejected an offer for a Palestinian state by Israel Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
The last offer included an Israeli withdrawal from almost the entire West Bank. Israel would have retained only that territory, 6.3 percent, constituting major Jewish communities, referred to as the settlement blocs. Furthermore, Olmert was prepared to compensate the Palestinians with sovereign Israeli land in the western Negev equivalent to 5.8 percent of the West Bank, as well as a secure route to the Gaza Strip — the latter also territory that would be part of a Palestinian state. Finally, Olmert committed Israel to withdrawing from the Arab neighborhoods in the eastern sector of Jerusalem. The Old City, including Judaism’s holiest site, the Western Wall, would be placed under international control.
No other national movement in history has been given so many political opportunities to resolve territorial grievances and create an independent state with international support. The Trump plan is criticized in many circles, first and foremost by the Palestinians, for favoring Israeli interests. The reason is that the plan realistically reflects the Palestinian reputation for intransigence. Palestinian leaders have never consummated peace negotiations. Even the 1993 and 1995 Oslo talks, which augured the greatest hope to date for a resolution of the conflict, were naught but interim discussions. Their primary outcome was the creation of a Palestinian Authority to which was ceded the territory designated as Areas A and B in which reside over 95% of all local Palestinians.
The Trump plan represents a classic game changer. It intentionally forges a new reality that includes, now for the fifth time, the opportunity for establishing an independent Palestine, but only if the Palestinians demonstrate the ability to break with the past and create a truly non-belligerent state alongside Israel.
In its very concept the Trump plan says: “Enough” to Palestinian intransigence. The time has come for other Western leaders to also say: “Enough. We are sick and tired of the Palestinian culture of victimization and the cries of being helpless and oppressed” when from day-to-day the great majority of Palestinians go about their lives and business without onerous interference by the “Occupation.” That this is the case is observable in the plethora of high-end, late model Palestinian-owned cars speeding down highways in the West Bank, including Israeli-controlled Area C, and the expensive restaurants, shopping malls and entertainment spots in Palestinian cities. Until there is a change in the status quo, the lives of Palestinians in Area C are subject to a list of restrictions, though many of these were put in only place in response to acts of Palestinian terrorism and are necessary to protect the lives of Israelis. Still, claims of suffering and injustice play well to Western ears.
No other people or international cause has been indulged by so many for so long. No other non-sovereign political entity has been the recipient of so much financial support from both governments and NGOs, and with little to no transparency. Yet today some 1.5 million Palestinians remain confined under Palestinian law to United Nations refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, the Syrian Arab Republic, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. This number includes those who forfeited a once offered opportunity for Israeli citizenship as residents of East Jerusalem. Palestinians are the only people whose U.N. refugee status is transferred without limitation from generation to generation, regardless of where in the world they live and regardless of their socio-economic status.
The United Nations Relief Works Agency (U.N.W.R.A.), with a budget of $1.4 billion, exists exclusively to perpetuate the refugee status of Palestinians; its mandate has never included their resettlement. Consider this against how the citizenship status of the many millions of other refugees from conflicts throughout the world has been settled under the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees within a maximum of 20 years.
It is likely that there are unseen flaws built into the “Deal of the Century” as well as obstacles that would arise in its implementation. Nevertheless, given the failed history of all previous efforts at negotiations, each based on the premise of granting land to the Palestinians in return for the promise of peace, it is apparent that a different negotiating framework is required. But to give this plan a chance the world must first unequivocally say to the Palestinians, “Enough is enough.”
Ardie Geldman is the director of iTalkIsrael, Efrat, Israel
Image credit: Pixnio public domain