Any government elected in Israel will undoubtedly agree to discuss the plan with the Americans.
There are clear signs that the Trump administration’s “deal of the century” – the plan to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – is in its last stages of formulation, and will be submitted to the quarreling parties after Israel’s elections and the formation of a new government. The plan’s details are being kept secret, but it probably deals with core issues, such as borders, Jerusalem, and refugees. The Trump administration will also probably offer significant economic incentives, especially to the Palestinians, in order to sweeten the deal. The American administration’s plan is based on the international community’s prevailing assumption that peace requires implementation of the “two states for two peoples” concept.
Any government elected in Israel will undoubtedly agree to discuss the plan with the Americans, even if it is skeptical of the American enthusiasm for bringing peace to our region. If he secures another term as prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who agreed to discuss a plan designed by the Obama administration, will undoubtedly keep his promise to welcome the Trump plan. A government headed by Benny Gantz would also certainly not dismiss an American peace initiative.
What the Palestinian leadership will do is also entirely predictable. The Palestinian leaders, who are boycotting the many channels for dialogue with the Americans, will continue their intransigence. The Trump administration’s offer is unlikely to be more generous than the far-reaching concessions offered in negotiations by former prime ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, which were unacceptable to the Palestinians.
The more important fact is that Israeli concessions of yesteryear are no longer relevant. While it is not clear that Barak or Olmert could have delivered, had the Palestinians been ready to sign a deal, such Israeli “flexibility” is nowadays regarded as extremely dangerous in terms of national security. The Oslo process is deemed a strategic blunder, and most Israelis do not regard the Palestinians as neighbors with whom it is possible to live in peace.
Most Israelis realize the gap between the positions of the Zionist movement and the Palestinian national movement are unbridgeable. Moreover, it now clear that the Palestinians are incapable of establishing a state with a monopoly on the use of force. They are unable to exercise control over their own armed militias, one of which, Hamas, conquered the Gaza Strip. In fact, the Palestinian inability to sustain a state infrastructure is a phenomenon that beleaguers Arab political culture elsewhere, too. Alas, an end to the conflict is remote because the two national movements still possess the energy to continue fighting for purposes that are more important to them than peace, such as control over Jerusalem.
Thus, the “deal of the century” will not solve the conflict. Its substance offers no salvation. It will suffer the same fate as previous American initiatives. However, there is hope in the people behind it. The Trump administration has no allegiance to accepted diplomatic formulas and political correctness. The failure of the “deal of the century” may motivate it to adopt a different paradigm.
Israel’s job is to show the Americans that the effort to establish “two states for two peoples” is not feasible at present, and will not attain stability. Israel’s policy of managing the conflict has achieved considerable success in recent years. Foundations should be laid for convincing the US to support a long-term conflict-management strategy.
Again, the conflict cannot truly be ended, and attempts to “resolve” it result only in frustration and damage. A more modest but far more useful goal should be set – managing this protracted and intractable conflict while limiting suffering on both sides. Wise use of carrot-and-stick mechanisms might facilitate a relatively comfortable life for all people living between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.
It is worth noting that the Palestinian question no longer heads the international agenda, and the urgency of “solving” it has somewhat subsided. This allows, perhaps, time for a new generation of Palestinian leaders to emerge, with a more practical outlook. Responsible Arab state actors can lend a hand in moderating extremist trends in Palestinian society.
Conflict management is not a cop-out. It is a cautious strategy that succumbs neither to demagogic demands for military victory nor to the impatience of those who advocate dangerous unilateral withdrawals.
The guaranteed failure of the “deal of the century” is an opportunity for Israel to open American eyes to the harsh and complicated reality in our region, and lead Washington into supporting conflict-management. Israel should be released from the burden of an old “two-state solution” formula that can provide no relief.
Published in The Jerusalem Post 01.03.2019
JISS Policy Papers are published through the generosity of the Greg Rosshandler Family.
photo: U.S. Embassy Jerusalem [CC BY 2.0]