September 21, 2018

Rejecting Peace, Free of Charge

No one expects a new Israeli-Palestinian peace plan to succeed. Not Israel, which plays along with the plan to have a plan, for there is no other choice, but is quite confident that the other side will torpedo the plan and hence save Israel the headache. Surely not the Palestinians, whose representatives said earlier this week that they have no intention to even speak to the planners of President Donald Trump’s administration, Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt. 

One wonders if within the Trump administration anyone still hopes to achieve a breakthrough by putting in some more time or by tweaking the details of the plan in some fashion. It would not be completely unkind to suggest that even they — Trump, Kushner, Greenblatt — know by now that their plan is doomed to fail. Peace will not come. A solution will not materialize. 

Plans are not the problem. They were never the problem. From the little we know about the Trump plan, to be released someday (although we still don’t know when), it is going to be in many ways similar to previous plans. What else is there? One either divides the land under some arrangement or keeps it together under Israel’s control, with the Palestinians becoming citizens of some country. For the third, and currently best available, option — keeping things as they are for the time being — no plan is needed. 

Plans are needed when the sides agree on the basic parameters but have difficulty with the details. Israelis and Palestinians disagree on fundamental issues, the first of which is time. Israelis believe time is on their side and that they can postpone a solution for the challenge until the Palestinians accept their terms. Palestinians believe time is on their side and that Israel will ultimately be the one to have to cave, either under international pressure or because of demographic realities or because of who knows what. 

Time is also the enemy of the Trump administration as it devises its plan. The Palestinians look at Trump and tell themselves: We will do to him what Benjamin Netanyahu did to Barack Obama. We will play for time, reject, boycott, play hard to get, postpone, delegitimize. Their hopes are two: 1) That Trump will only serve one term and be replaced by a much more accommodating U.S. president. The Palestinians read the newspapers and the polls and know that Israel is becoming a partisan issue, and that a progressive Democratic president might be able to say and do now what his predecessors could not do. 2) That Trump’s manner, temper and aggression will give them a good enough excuse to reject his plan without paying any price for it in the court of international opinion. 

This is why the Trump plan is going to be a failure. Because it will not add a layer of credibility to the argument that the Palestinians do not miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. 

Peace plans have two possible functions. The first one is the obvious — to bring about peace. All plans thus far have failed to achieve this goal. The second one is to add a layer to a stack of principles that gradually clarify both the parameters of a possible peace and the terms both sides need to accept to make peace possible. To achieve the second goal, the plan and its author ought to be credible — Bill Clinton-credible, not Trump-credible. 

When Clinton put forward his plan and it was rejected by Yasser Arafat, it was the beginning of the end of Arafat. That is because Clinton had credibility in the international community, and when the president blamed Arafat for the failure to achieve peace, the Palestinians looked bad. But this will not happen when Trump presents his plan. Trump has little international credibility as a peacemaker, and should the Palestinians reject his plan (and there is no doubt that they would), the price for them in the international court of public opinion will be small. 

So, for them, rejecting the plan is a no-brainer. They can wait for a more sympathetic president, possibly in 2021; they can wait without them being perceived, except by Israel, as delayers of peace. And there is one caveat that ought to be added to this analysis of forthcoming events: If the Trump administration could convince the leaders of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia to endorse the plan, the calculation changes. Credibility is gained. That’s why we see the administration investing so much effort in getting these countries on board.


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.