Expectations for President Donald Trump’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, grandly called the “Deal of the Century,” were pretty low before it was ever rolled out.
Just because Trump says he understands the “art of the deal,” doesn’t mean he understands how to make a deal between two peoples who have been fighting for longer than he has been alive. And just because his son-in-law Jared Kushner is Jewish and a supporter of Israel does not mean he is capable of really seeing what is best for both Israel and the Palestinians. And just because there have been no negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians since at least 2014 does not mean any plan is better than no plan.
I want to see Israel and a future Palestinian state co-exist, both successful, both providing a good life for its citizens. I would be willing to give up land that I know should be part of a Jewish state in order to do so, and there are great and wise rabbis that back that position. I would be willing to leave my own home and the community that I love if there were real peace.
In its current form, the Trump peace plan unveiled last month at the White House in a room full of Jews and Israel supporters probably is not the plan that will do the trick. But, it is out there, and instead of rejecting it out of hand, acting insulted and insisting my way or the highway, the Palestinians should study it, come up with counter-offers and sit down to negotiate.
But they cannot just posture and cling to the claims they have made for the last half-a-century, when the lay of the land has changed so radically.
In the wake of the presentation of the plan, the entire world it seems got up in arms about how biased it was in favor of Israel. The Arab world, the international community and liberal American Jews, for example.
In favor of Israel. Yes, many issues of security and allowing Jewish settlers to keep their homes have been addressed in this plan. But where was this outcry when successive peace plans ignored Israel’s security needs, ignored claims to Jewish holy sites, and ignored Israel’s desire to remain a Jewish state with a flood of “returning” Palestinians.
The Palestinians over the years have been offered very solid peace deals with more land that was more contiguous during negotiations with Israel, and they were offered at a time when there were fewer settlements and many fewer Jewish residents of the West Bank, which would have made the separation into two states that much easier.
The offer currently getting the most attention is that of then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in 2009. According to Olmert’s memoirs published in 2011, Abbas was offered up to about 94% of the territory of the West Bank, including appropriate land swaps; an American-led international security force, not Israeli soldiers, to be stationed on the border with Jordan; a shared Jerusalem, with holy sites overseen by a multinational committee; and a limited number of Palestinian refugees allowed back into Israel but with compensation for the rest. Abbas has acknowledged that he rejected the deal, though many believe that they could have arrived at a compromise given time – time they did not have because Olmert resigned under the cloud of a corruption investigation which ultimately led to a prison sentence.
In 2009, there were nearly 290,000 West Bank settlers. Statistics released on Jan. 1 show the population of West Bank’s settlements at more than 460,000, an increase of 3.1% over the previous year, and a whopping nearly 59% increase in the last decade and since the Olmert offer was on the table.
That Abbas rejected such a deal from Olmert more than a decade ago is incredibly ironic this week, since the two men are scheduled to appear together in New York next week, where the U.N. Security Council will discuss the Trump peace plan, in order to publicly denounce the plan. Olmert could not deliver peace with the Palestinians so who is he to condemn our current prime minister? Abbas refused a much better plan for the Palestinians proposed by Olmert, making it his fault that the new proposal is so much less advantageous.
I am no fan of the Trump administration and not a huge fan of the proposed peace deal, for many reasons. But the new plan – which offers the Palestinians a state, something that Israel has to officially buy into – is out there, and the United States has said it is willing to hear Palestinians counter-proposals. But they cannot be the same old demands the Palestinians have been making. No longer will Israel be held hostage to what I heard former Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, in an interview call the “sacred cows” of peace talks – such as two states along the 1967 borders, a state with a military and weapons, the right of return for all refugees. That ship has sailed.
Marcy Oster is a former Clevelander who covers the Middle East for the Cleveland Jewish News from Karnei Shomron, West Bank. To read more of Oster’s columns, visit cjn.org/oster.