Steven S. Drachman: President Abbas’s Decision

Maybe in the “excitement” of the impeachment hearings, you missed the announcement of President Trump’s new Middle East peace plan, which he’s dubbed the deal of the century. It gives Jerusalem to Israel, along with the settlements, leaves the Palestinians with around 70% to 80% of the West Bank, and seeks to buy them off with billions in financial aid, trade deals and construction projects. Palestine’s president, Mahmoud Abbas, has rejected the plan and announced a suspension of cooperation with Israel and America.

What next?

Here are a few things to bear in mind:

Sure, Palestine hates the new Trump plan. But Palestine hated the Clinton parameters. We’ve so far had a history of Americans and Israelis making offers and Palestinians saying no, rather than presenting a counter-proposal. That is what has led us here.

Currently, the Palestinians have 40% of the territories. The new plan gives them nearly twice that. It’s not the nearly 100% offered by the Clinton parameters, but it is a significant improvement.

Do the Israelis and Palestinians need to learn to like each other?

One columnist said the plan lacks empathy, that Israelis and Palestinians need to understand each other’s histories. Well, they do! The time for empathy is long past. (The Palestinians have, perhaps understandably, rejected confidence building measures as “normalization.” So touchy-feely isn’t coming any time soon either.) Now is the time for a deal, one that succeeds even though the Palestinians and the Israelis hate each others’ guts. Peace is made with enemies.

The Palestinians should put their own plan on the table. And no, I don’t mean the Arab plan, which has been on the table for years. That plan, while potentially a useful starting point for a regional negotiation, requires Israel to withdraw to indefensible borders, and to give up control of the Kotel, the last remnant of Israel’s ancient Temple. That won’t happen.

Who should administer Jerusalem

There are more than a few sticky issues here. First, administration of the land. Palestine wants to administer East Jerusalem, and the plan gives East Jerusalem to Israel. I imagine if Palestine returned to the table and negotiated, they would walk away with some neighborhoods. But even under the current proposal, Palestinian citizens would continue to fill East Jerusalem, and would be taxed by Palestine. Is Palestine fighting over the right to collect garbage in East Jerusalem?

Second is the right of return, which is what sank the Clinton parameters. Palestine wants millions of Palestinians to return to Israel as citizens; they ask essentially for one Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, with another Palestinian state next door. Israel, of course, would like to continue to exist. Certainly, in a future Israel and Palestine, citizens of Palestine who work in Israel, or who do business in Israel, will be able to go there every day and, after some period of peaceful relations, even buy property. They will vote in Palestine and work in Israel (and be taxed by Palestine). This is coming as the inevitable result of any peace plan. And if Palestine wishes, they could ask for it now. (I have a few suggestions for how this might be achieved, in my TedX Talk, my Kindle Single and an Arabic translation of the Framework.

The limits of another Intifada

The PA reminds us that violence remains an option. But what might they seek to achieve with violence? Do they believe they will defeat Israel militarily? This has not been a realistic goal since the end of the Yom Kippur War, almost fifty years ago, and even with Arab allies in the fight (which is not happening), it will not be realistic again. Do they wish to exhaust Israel with low-level but still-traumatic violence, till Israel agrees to withdraw from the territories and to share Jerusalem? This has already happened. Israel withdrew from Gaza and repeatedly offered the West Bank, but the Authority has declined to accept victory without the right of return.

Then this: with a violent reaction, might Palestine wish to provoke Israel into responding militarily to the violence, in which case the deaths of Palestinian civilians would damage Israel in the eyes of the world?

In other words, just get the world to hate Israel and the Jews, and victory will proceed.

Well, I have some news on that front. The world has hated the Jews for thousands of years, and the world has hated modern Israel for decades, ever since the moment she was born. This hasn’t helped Palestine. All the Palestinians have to show for their moral victories is dead Palestinians and many, many, many UN resolutions condemning Israel. If UN condemnation were the key to victory, they would have received the keys to the Kingdom long ago.

Let’s see a counterproposal

For years, I’ve been arguing that Israel and America should put a plan on the table and leave it there, and whatever the weaknesses of the plan, now they have done this. It is not a final agreement, but an initial proposal, awaiting a counter-proposal. I am no fan of Netanyahu or Trump, but we react to the people in charge, and at the moment, the people in charge are urging the Palestinians to come to the table with their own plan. Now it’s time to hear from the Palestinians.

This is not as bad as it looks.


Steven S. Drachman is a novelist. A few years ago, he took a break from novelizing to write Enough Already, who proposes a new framework for mideast peace. It is available as a Kindle Single.