Trump’s Middle East Plan Forces ‘Reality’ on Palestinians, But Meets Their Needs

For 20 years, ever since the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat responded to a generous peace offer from then Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak by launching a terrorist war, the Israeli-Palestinian dispute has been at an impasse.

Multiple Israeli leaders over recent decades have sought to return to Barak’s offer, which would cede over 90 percent of the West Bank and all of Gaza to the Palestinian Authority (PA). Each time they have been met by a resounding “no.”

President Trump’s recently released peace plan, however, finally would move past those two decades of failure. It shows that Barak’s initial

framework—the result of the Oslo Accords and President Bill Clinton’s parameters—is finally dead and, in doing so, it rejects several poison-pill demands from the Palestinians that made any deal impossible.

First, the plan recognizes Israel’s existential security needs. It ensures Israeli sovereignty over the strategically essential Jordan Valley – the West Bank border area next to Jordan – and overall security control over the West Bank. The danger of simply ceding that territory to the Palestinians is that it would likely turn into Gaza, a haven for terrorists and launching point for rocket attacks that would trigger repeated wars and destabilize Jordan. Any sensible and sober peace plan must assure Israeli security control over the borders of the West Bank, and this one does.

It also bypasses the problem of uprooting settlements by ensuring that no one will be removed from their homes. Israel will retain control over all the major settlement blocs, acknowledging these facts on the ground never could have been erased in the most generous peace offer.

Perhaps most importantly, it takes the so-called Palestinian “right of return” off the table. Israel no longer will have to fear being demographically overwhelmed by millions of Palestinians moving from neighboring countries into Israel, ensuring Israel’s continued viability as a Jewish and democratic state. It also rejects the division of Jerusalem, a politically and logistically impossible Palestinian demand that Israel surrender half its capitol city. Instead, should the Palestinians seek to build a state, they can claim territory on the eastern outskirts of Jerusalem as their capitol.

The plan strives to meet Palestinian needs as well.

Most importantly, it recognizes the idea of a contiguous Palestinian state in line with geographic and demographic realities. The Palestinians will double the land under their control and eventual sovereignty. Gaza and the West Bank may be connected via a tunnel. Palestine would have access to Israeli ports in Haifa and Ashdod. Industrial, agricultural, and high-tech manufacturing zones would be established with American support and financing.

The Palestinian state will have to meet internationally recognized standards of transparency, freedom, human rights, rejection of terrorism, and good governance, the lack of which has thwarted Palestinian political aspirations for decades. The PA’s “pay-for-slay” program of rewarding murderers and terrorists with payments and state benefits will have to end.

Most importantly, Trump’s plan at long last puts a price on Palestinian rejectionism. For the first time, the Palestinians will not get more as a reward for saying “no”, but are threatened with getting less. The process no longer be held hostage to a Palestinian political culture that refuses compromise, rewards extremism, and insists on holding out – forever, if necessary – until every demand is met.

This can only be for the good, since the power of the Palestinian “no” has always led them to believe that denying Israel’s legitimacy and permanence, and engaging in egregious anti-Semitism, incitement, and terrorism, finally will get them what they want — Palestine “from the river to the sea.”

And this is perhaps the greatest accomplishment of Trump’s plan: It punctures the Palestinian myth of Israel’s eventual disappearance. As part of a regional Arab majority, the Palestinian leadership has believed that they can wait Israel out, that time is ultimately on their side. But the opposite is true—as Israel grows in economic, demographic, and military strength, while the Palestinians stagnate. Finally, an American administration is telling Palestinians the truth.

At the moment, the Palestinians are sticking with their apparently eternal “no.” But the Middle East has changed. Facing the threat of Iran’s aggression, Arab states such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia now see Israel as a genuine, if not always comfortable, strategic ally. It was telling that the White House event with President Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was attended by representatives of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Oman. Over the past decade, many Arab states, especially from the Gulf, have drawn closer to Israel – and have grown more comfortable acknowledging their frustration with Palestinian political drama.

Faced with reality, the Palestinians actually may prove wiser than we imagined, and a new leadership may emerge to replace the aging Mahmoud Abbas that is capable of compromising with Israel. If not, the United States and Israel will proceed, and the Palestinians will have missed yet another opportunity to improve their situation.

Sander Gerber is CEO of Hudson Bay Capital Management. He is a Distinguished Fellow at the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA), and a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

Originally published in The Hill