On 29 January 2020, president Trump finally presented his long-awaited ‘Deal of the Century’, his vision to end the ongoing conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis, a conflict which has been going on in some form or another for over seventy years. Whilst the details of the plan may not have been previously known, the reactions from the Israeli and Palestinian sides could not have been more predictable.
As has been the case since the days of the British Mandate, the UN 1947 Partition Plan and many other opportunities, most lately in 2000 and 2008, the Israelis have always agreed to what has been offered, even when the concessions have been painful, such as the division of Jerusalem, or withdrawal from Hebron. The Palestinians, and Arab nations before them, have never failed to say “no”. Most famous was the “3 no’s” in Khartoum in September 1967. “No to peace with Israel. No to recognition with Israel. No to negotiations with Israel”. Fast forward to 2020 and the ‘Deal of the Century’, and we have almost exactly the same response from president Abbas, “We say 1,000 ‘no’s to this deal”.
The Palestinians may feel the ‘deal’ does not give them what they wanted, but even when offered a far greater deal by Prime Minister Barak in 2000 which included 92% of the West Bank, much to President Bill Clinton’s frustration and amazement, the Palestinians under Yasser Arafat said “no”. And then in 2008 they were offered an even better deal by then Prime Minister Olmert. This deal offered the Palestinians 98% of the West Bank with land swaps to account for the remaining 2%, East Jerusalem as their Capital, and the dismantling of Israeli settlements in the proposed Palestinian State. Again, this time by Mahmoud Abbas, the answer was “no”.
The Trump deal falls short of the Olmert offer, and the Palestinians run the risk of losing everything if their intransigent approach to peace with the world’s only Jewish State continues in the same vein as it has for over 70 years.
Israel fits into New Zealand approximately 13 times and is roughly the size of Canterbury. Giving up any land has a significant impact on its size and ability to defend itself. To ask of Israel to put its existence at risk is something that no one or no country should expect. Yet Israel has continually offered the Palestinians land for peace, just as it did with both Egypt and Jordan before it. Israel also unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005, which has now become a stronghold for terrorist activity heavily backed by the Iranians. The concerns of Israelis are more than justified.
Israel has no margin for error. The first war it loses is its last. It is difficult to comprehend this reality from our relative safety here in New Zealand, yet Israel has shown continuous willing for compromise. Each time, the offer of compromise, the offer to agree on a peace deal through direct negotiations has ended up with Palestinian rejection. Yet, the Palestinians offer no viable alternatives. Instead, they insist on all of pre-1967 East Jerusalem, including the Old City and Judaism’s most Holy site, the Western Wall, being part of ‘Palestine’. And they insist on the ‘right of return’ for all Palestinian refugees and their descendants. A ‘right’ afforded to no other people in the world. Yet they insist on this because they know it will ultimately lead to the end of the Jewish State.
And here is the crux of the matter. Until the Palestinians accept that Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish people is not only here to stay, but has a right to exist in the spiritual and historical homeland of the Jewish people, peace will be as far away as ever. Yet, the Trump Plan, with all its flaws, presents both the Israelis and the Palestinians with an opportunity. An opportunity as a starting point for direct talks and negotiations with the aim of real and lasting peace, one that recognises the rights and aspirations of both people.
This may or may not be the last opportunity for the two-State Solution to come to fruition. Instead of a “thousand no’s” hopefully Abbas will see this as a chance to bring a life of peace and prosperity to both Israelis and Palestinians. His final legacy. Hopefully, he will choose a path to peace rather than stay on the road of conflict.
Rob Berg is president of the Zionist Federation of New Zealand. This article was first published in the New Zealand Herald.