We can assume that eventually the Trump administration will present their Israeli-Palestinian “deal of the century.” We can equally assume that the Palestinians will reject the deal, as they have already done, even before it has been presented. It is also fair to assume that the Trump deal has been developed and coordinated with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, even if there are some elements of the plan that Netanyahu is likely to say he doesn’t like. I assume this is part of the strategy already developed by Netanyahu and his Trump administration allies: Friedman, Greenblatt and Kushner, and of course Israel’s most senior representation in the Republican Party, Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer.
The Palestinians are expected to reject the deal – this is no surprise. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has already been lobbying against the deal in Arab capitals, most recently in a meeting of the Arab League in Tunisia. Abbas does not have to work too hard because he knows quite well that any deal that leaves Al-Aqsa (meaning all of Arab east Jerusalem) in the hands of Israel will be rejected by the entire Arab and Muslim world.
It is pretty inconceivable that Trump would agree to turn sovereignty over east Jerusalem to the Palestinians. The Palestinians expect that the Trump deal will not include an independent Palestinian state, will not make mention of the two-states solution, and whatever they get offered will be far less territory than that “based on the June 4, 1967, lines.” They expect Trump’s plan to offer them money in place of independence and sovereignty. No amount of money in the world will be able to pay off the Palestinians from dropping their demand for self-determination – which means to them independence and sovereignty.
The same could have been said about the Jews prior to 1948 (but of course because we have so much less respect for the Palestinians than we have for ourselves, we expect them to some crawling on their knees and to take money in place of their national identity and national solidarity). I constantly encounter Israelis on the Right, mostly religious, who honestly believe that we can pay off the Palestinians to leave Eretz Yisrael – because, as they say – “their relationship to the homeland is completely different than ours, and God gave us this land and did not give it to them.”
The Palestinian rejection plays right into the hands of Trump and Netanyahu, and continues to paint the Palestinians and their leadership as rejectionists of peace and of Israel’s right to exist. The “no partner” narrative will be further fueled by Palestinian dismissal of whatever Trump presents. The Palestinians need to re-think their strategy, which is bound to hurt them and their ability to achieve their goals. I am not the first person to be saying this, but I hope my message will be heard louder in the halls of government in Ramallah and in Palestinian homes all over Palestine and around the world.
I propose to the Palestinians to do two things:
1) Palestinians should declare that they will wait for the Trump plan to be presented before rejecting it. They will review the plan and they will debate the plan, in public, in the media and in government. This undertaking must include voicing support for whatever positive elements might be in the plan. While the plan is likely to fall very short from being acceptable to them, why should the Palestinian outrightly reject support for massive investment in infrastructure in the Palestinian areas of the West Bank and in Gaza? Why should Palestinians reject support for strengthening democratic institutions in Palestine? Why should Palestinians be opposed to improving commerce, importing and exporting with the rest of the world? Why should Palestinian reject increasing access to fresh water, increasing electricity production, strengthening local government?
There are going to be some positive elements of the Trump plan. It would be foolish to throw them out completely.
At the same time, it is imperative that the Palestinians reject elements of the plan that negate their right to self-determination, independence and statehood. It is also important that they stand firm on their principled rejection of Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank along with their continued statement that east Jerusalem is Palestinian while west Jerusalem is Israeli. There are likely to be many quite significant elements of the plan which the Palestinians should rightly reject. It is time for the Palestinian strategy to be transformed from “No!” to “Yes, but!” or “Yes and!”
2) Palestinians would be very wise to be preparing to issue their own unilateral declaration of peace between the State of Palestine and the State of Israel. In the past few weeks the PLO reissued an earlier document with its detailed positions on all issues in conflict with Israel. The document is in Arabic, English and Hebrew, and appears on PLO websites, and has been distributed locally and around the world. It is not too difficult for the Palestinians to translate their own positions into a positive statement of peace with Israel on which they leave a space for Prime Minister Netanyahu to sign next to the signature of President Abbas.
It is time for the Palestinians to go on the offensive with a strategy of peace that focuses on their own right of self-determination, but as they have been stating for years: not in place of Israel, but next to Israel. They can use terms such as: “The borders of the states of Palestine and Israel will be based on the June 4, 1967, borders and will be determined in negotiations between the parties,” “east Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine and west Jerusalem is the capital of Israel,” “borders in Jerusalem and between Palestine and Israel should be open and allow for free movement of people and goods, while ensuring the security of all people in both states.” There are many positive statements the Palestinians could make that already exist within their own documents, and of course, within the Arab Peace Initiative from 2002.
The Palestinian strategy should go on the offensive to enlist the support of the entire world. They should call for a special session of the United Nations Security Council and call on all countries of the world to sign on to the Palestinian declaration of peace. It can easily be assumed that the international community will also reject the Trump plan if it is not be based on the two-states solution and allows Israel to annex parts of the West Bank, but offers no political solution for Jerusalem. A Palestinian peace offensive will make it a lot easier for many more countries to recognize the State of Palestine and force the two-states solution back to the agenda. This in fact may be the very last time that it may be possible to make the two-states solution once again relevant.
If this type of strategy is not developed, the next stage in the conflict will be focused on moving Israel from being the Jewish nation-state to a state of one person, one vote for everyone living between the river and the sea regardless of religion, ethnicity or national identity.
Gershon is an advisor to Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process and the founder and director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Public Policy Institute. He was the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas for the release of 1,027 prisoners – mainly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis of which 280 were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Jewish targets that resulted in the killing of 569 Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. Gershon is actively involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, environmental security, political strategy, peace education, economics, culture and in the development of affordable solar projects with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020.